Strategic height adjustment

His [Barry Bogin’s] research, published in Anthropologischer Anzeiger: Journal of Biological and Clinical Anthropology, considered numerous other examples of migration and height change over the past 140 years, including rural Bangladeshis who came to London in the 1970s.

In each instance, migrant youngsters’ growth accelerated until their average height matched that of their new native peers.

“This is usually thought to be due to better food and health care in the new country,” said Prof Bogin.

“But also, because the emotional stress that limited growth in the old country has been lifted — and there is emotional stimulus for bigger body size in the new country.”

Professor Bogin’s study, carried out in collaboration with Dr Christiane Scheffler, at the University of Potsdam, and Professor Michael Hermanussen, from the University of Kiel, also explored a second phenomenon called competitive growth — where the ruling social classes adjust their height to exceed the subordinate population.

Prof Bogin said: “This is when the mean height of colonial or military migrants, who become the socially dominant group in the conquered country, surpasses the average height of the both the conquered people and the origin population.”

In one example, the researchers found that the height of Dutch colonial masters in Indonesia in the 19th and early 20th centuries was greater than the Indonesians they ruled, and also greater than social upper classes back in the Netherlands.

“This was also the case for English colonial masters in North America,” said Prof Bogin.

“We find that it is the superior social status of the conquerors that promotes their greater height.

Fascinating stuff, to what else might this apply?  Here is the full link, via Anecdotal.


Delightfully ridiculous? I mean, I certainly expect that Dutch colonial masters in Indonesia in the 19th and early 20th centuries ate better than the Indonesians they ruled, and also ate better than social upper classes back in the Netherlands. Fresh veg year-round.

Rijsttafel, mijnheer

And they were colonial matters because they were capable of physical dominance.

This is silly intersectional bullshit.


The great stagnation in comment editing continues.

Well, the cannons and rifles probably played a bigger role there than a couple extra inches of tibia, but I agree this is pretty silly.

Well, if it's true that height makes you capable of physical dominance, and physical dominance makes your offspring eat better and thus grow taller, it's not exactly "bullshit". Although I don't know where the intersectionality enters into the discussion.
Are you suggesting that there's nothing unfair about one group of people maintaining it's social dominance by preventing the other group from feeding their children well enough to grow as tall as they could, thus rendering them less of a threat ?

"Are you suggesting that there’s nothing unfair about one group of people maintaining it’s social dominance by preventing the other group from feeding their children well enough to grow as tall as they could, thus rendering them less of a threat ?"

THAT was quite a leap.

The more that things never happened, the more blithely they will be attributed to oppressors.

Perhaps the Dutch colonial masters should have converted a quarter of Indonesian males into eunuchs and taught them to manage the population. The resulting height advantage would make the eunuchs more capable of physical dominance.

For a long time, the Tutsi ruled over the Hutus. The Tutsi were the short ones, traditionally hunters in the forests. The Hutu were the tall ones, traditionally farmers. The Rwandan Civil War was a revolt against the Tutsi by the Hutus.

I thought the Tutsi were the rebels, and eventually victorious, while the massacre was by the majority Hutus before the Tutsi army could get there?

"Delightfully ridiculous?" --- well there's no hard scientific evidence presented by the researcher(s) that confirms their theory of "strategic height adjustment", just some non-random data points that have other/better explanations. Speculation is the name of the game in social science research.

It isn't speculation. It is the desire to find evidence that intersectionality explains everything.

If you say in the wrong room that men are generally taller than women, two things will happen. A number of idiots will run from the room screaming. And someone will try to suggest that the reason is what this paper is suggesting.

I grew up in a province that was seeing the transition from poor subsistence farmers to a more modern economy. The result was visible clearly during parent teacher days in high school. The kid was of average height for North America, the father was 5'2 the mom was 4'8. They had likely not enough to eat during their childhood.

Only 5'2! Didn't they have the invisible hand of the free market back then?

antepasta or antipasta
before or against
the pasta will effect maximal height attainment

Also sickly Dutchmen probably didn't try to make their fortune in colonial adventures at the far end of a long sea voyage.

Why doesn't affirmative action apply to the NBA?

What would happen if NBA stars got inclusion riders in their contracts?

The ironies run wild here. is there any data that shows black man are taller on average? How does that map to diet and social-economic conditions?

Can you image the crying we would hear if the NBA was mostly white?

Sure, it would probably be similar to the crying we hear about the NHL being mostly white, i.e. pretty much none.

I would argue that the NBA is much closer to the NHL in terms of optimizing the national talent pool.

Yes, clearly 51% of the NBA players should be women. And they should score 51% of the points. At least.

'found that the height of Dutch colonial masters in Indonesia in the 19th and early 20th centuries was greater than the Indonesians they ruled, and also greater than social upper classes back in the Netherlands'

One assumes that the Dutch had the typical height requirements for those who acted as 'colonial masters' that one found in any number of European settings where height was not a random variable. Though oddly, at least in the following case, the 'social superior' was shorter - 'The Regiment was founded with a strength of two battalions in 1675 as “Regiment Kurprinz” under the command of Prince Frederick of Brandenburg, the later King Frederick I of Prussia. In 1688 the later King Frederick William I of Prussia became the nominal Commander of the Regiment. After Frederick William I ascended to the throne in 1713, he proceeded to strengthen his military, including hiring 40,000 mercenaries. He had already begun to recruit taller soldiers and needed several hundred more recruits each year.

As the number of tall soldiers increased, the regiment earned its nickname 'Potsdam Giants'. The original required height was 6 Prussian feet (about 6'2" or 1.88 meters), well above average then and now. The king was about 1.6 meters himself.'

Couldn't the causality work the other way? It could be that the Dutch men who went off to rule Indonesia came disproportionately from the smarter, taller tail-end of the population. Of course the problem with my conjecture is how to explain migrant youths' reaching new native peers' heights...

Yeah... I'm going with height is a function of genes and nutrition and social status only comes into the equation insofar as it is correlated with genes and nutrition.

Once again any social science outside of economics has shown itself to be pure gibberish.

Gary Becker didn't go far enough.

History and geography, done by serious people with no axe to grind, aren't gibberish. Agreed that Gary Becker didn't go far enough.

That’s actually how Donald McCloskey did his/her operation. She didn’t need a surgeon, she just read a lot of MR posts.

Interesting. Is it known that people in poorer, less secure areas of the US are shorter than their counterparts in richer areas (given the usual controls, of course)? Do they then get taller if they move to better areas? Or does this somehow only show up in international migration patterns?

I'm also hesitant to trust someone who takes a counterexample (in the linked article it talks about the Boer) and simply declares that it "proves the rule". Shouldn't a counterexample be evidence that a different rule is needed? At least he acknowledged the counterexample to his conclusion, I guess.

The obvious explanation here is that height is related to lifestyle in subtle ways - and not just, "oh they're richer / more powerful / better fed". The Boer, for example, were famously a farmer/settler people -- while the Indonesian Dutch were colonial overlords. I didn't get any hard data on the Guatemala Maya, but they mostly live in villages and probably live a largely agrarian existence. Coming to the US, they would have ditched that for an urban existence of some kind. Wouldn't this explain all 3 data points (Guatemala Maya --> USA; Dutch/Boer ---> South Africa; Dutch ---> Indonesia)?

In short, I imagine going out every morning from a young age to do physical labor is more than just superficially different from the average urbanized childhood in America. Maybe this is what Prof. Bogin calls "stress", but then his bit on the Boer counterexample doesn't make a whole lot of sense...

Is there any data on an international migration involving urban lifestyles on both ends?

Children of immigrants from less developed countries are often taller than their parents because they have much more calcium (milk products in particular) when they grow up. For similar reasons Western colonizers are taller than those they colonize (the Masai who raise cattle and drink blood and milk are probably an exception).

There is also selection for height as others have noted.

Out of curiousity does Tyler actually believe this or is this his attempt to show the absolute cluelessness of the social sciences?

I don't wish to sound too naive, but do they suggest a biological mechanism by which these two phenomena might happen?

Ah, epigenetics; of course! Has he got biological evidence for that?

Sounds like pure nonsense from academic Social/ Humanities areas of Academia who are clueless about "real science". Height/size is genetically based, with the possibility of stunting from poor nutrition or health (disease/parasites, etc) or stress.

Urban environments with lower parasite loads and high protein/fat diets allow maximum genetic potential. There is some genetic variation that creates different potentials among groups, much like families.

I need extraordinary evidence to believe that.

And the authors provide none.


There could be some weird thing going on here that would account for a real effect, but I'm deeply skeptical. My guess is it's some kind of p-value fishing/garden of forking paths thing happening to the researchers.

Proving that if you wish hard enough it will happen.

Social "science"

Basketball, volleyball, professional tennis?

Sounds about as plausible as Lamarck's ideas about how giraffes got their long necks, or Kipling's story about how elephants' trunks became so long.

Anyway, I am a tall Boer. Guess that makes me the exception to the exception that proves the rule.

It's not surprising and it's not a puzzle. If you get all the beef, you get bigger than people who just got rice.

And smarter. Beef has iron. Rice doesn't. Iron deficiency in babies leads to cognitive impairment.

I would put money down that if you did a study of feudal Europe that the nobles would be taller than the serfs, and that this height advantage disappeared around the time, or perhaps even slightly before, the end of the fueldal period.

Did the upper classes keep the serfs down by preventing them from eating well, or did mass industrialization raise nutritional intake well enough that the nobles stopped having a significant advantage in strength and health, and intelligence, over the lower classes - which led to the lower classes no longer seeing any reason why they needed to be ruled by them. In a more constrained survival situation it might actually make sense to feed only a limited number of children well enough for them to reach their maximum abilities, so that you have at least one maximally competent person capable of ruling. But once that constraint is lifted, the difference between the ruler and the ruled ceases to exist.

I'm not sure you'd make money on this bet. For England at least, it's my understanding that the strongest contrast was late 19th C, when the working class was growing up in the cities of early mass industrialisation, and eating terribly. Their ancestors a few centuries earlier were taller.

But since you say serfs perhaps you mean further east, and Russian peasants were poorer, later... I don't know how tall they were.

Either one. Maybe Englands more liberal situation with regards to the peasantry had some sort of relationship to the greater degree of rights that commoners had. Either they ate better and thus were less easily ruled, or they ate better because they were less easily ruled. Either way there's some feedback between starvation and oppression. It's long been noted that revolutions tend to happen after the oppression starts to lift, and not when the people are starving to death. Maybe this is because when people start to eat better, the next generation becomes stronger and smarter and is less easily controlled.

And you would be exactly right on the immediate effects of industrialisation -

I find all the comments about social science or 'intersectionality' funny considering the dude is an evolutionary anthropologist.

The migrant height growth is pretty obvious due to better nutrition. Could it be that the colonial masters from the Dutch and English were taller because colonial era food, health and pollulation wasn't great in the host countries? The stress/status thing is such a jump.

Second, third generation Bengalis probably do not converge on height with the British in any case.

" But also, because the emotional stress that limited growth in the old country has been lifted — and there is emotional stimulus for bigger body size in the new country.” [SNIP]

Even by the standards of contemporary social 'science', this is laughably pathetic.

By posting this shit, you lower yourself to its level.


"there is emotional stimulus for bigger body size..."


The Europeans had a high opinion of themselves.

I think it’s possible. Social Status can literally increase the density of dopamine receptors in the brain. And repeated social defeat does the opposite.

Dopamine has been found to increase growth hormone.

Question, dopamine receptors may increase but does that mean the actual supply of dopamine increases? Also why aren't cocaine users taller, since cocaine is responsible for a massive release of dopamine?

An external flood of dopamine from cocaine causes future dopamine production to decrease. Not sustainable as a growth strategy.

It would take a legitimate neuro expert to untangle whether increased density would increase Growth hormone during youth.

Considering Indonesia has been free of Dutch rule for more than 70 years, isn't a little strange that if this theory is true the heights of the two populations have not converged. Indonesians I think remain one of the shortest people in the world and the Dutch one of the tallest.

I wouldn't be surprised if a social status selection weren't were true.

Being tall is a fairly regular status advantage. It could be that what is considered tall enough to benefit gets recalibrated by the heights of others nearby.

Wait. Fully grown Dutch adults grew higher when they moved to the East Indies?

You've been had. This is utter tripe. In one case colonists were bigger than natives and back home, in another colonists were smaller, he comes up with different explanations for each case. Dig deeper and it's all just arbitrary guessing.. All we really have here is that migrants from poor to affluent countries get taller, which doesn't require any fancy speculative epigenetic strategic height adjustment explanation.

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