Giants of the modern world. A new history of heights and health in The Netherlands, 1811-1940


Time frame

June 2016 – April 2022

Project description

During the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, The Netherlands experienced remarkable growth in stature, both in absolute and relative terms, which resulted in making the Dutch the tallest people on earth. Given the known impact of early life diseases and nutrition on stature, this trend indicates a remarkable improvement in health. In the proposed project we aim to understand this development, by zooming in on processes at both micro and macro levels. We study the impact on young adult stature of heritability and early life conditions such as family size, parental socioeconomic status, the availability of nutrition and the local disease environment. Moreover, we look at the consequences of adult height and health on people’s later lives. Were taller people more successful on the marriage market, in their careers, and in reproduction? Can we discern ‘virtuous cycles’ or selection processes which allowed each successive generation to be taller? At the macro level, we will study the role of (changing national and regional socioeconomic) inequality in explaining the Dutch gains in heights and health. We will make use of an extraordinary database: the reconstructed life courses (occupations, family formation, mobility) of Dutch persons born between 1811 and 1922 (Historical Sample of the Netherlands). We will enrich this database with information on heights of a representative sample of about 30000 individuals, namely of the HSN male persons themselves, as well as of their fathers, brothers and sons. Thus, we gain a unique longitudinal and intergenerational perspective on the remarkable history of heights and health in The Netherlands.

the tallest and shortest conscripts at the examination in 1915 in Uithoorn (Netherlands)

The tallest and shorts conscripts at the examination in 1915 in Uithoorn (Netherlands)


Heights, anthropometric history, biological standard of living, conscripts


Kristina Thompson, Does size matter? Body height and later-life outcomes in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Netherlands (dissertation Vrije Universiteit 2022)

Kristina Thompson, Björn Quanjer, Mayra Murkens (2020), Grow fast, die young? The causes and consequences of adult height and prolonged growth in nineteenth century

Maastricht, Social Science & Medicine,266

Quanjer, B. & Kok, J. (2021). Biographies and Bodies of Pupils of the Amsterdam Maritime Institute, 1792–1943. Research Data Journal for the Humanities and Social Sciences, 6 (1), 1-13. doi:

Quanjer, B. & Kok,J. (2020). Drafting the Dutch. Selection Biases in Dutch Conscript Records in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century, Social Science History 44,3,  501-524

Quanjer B., Kok. J,(2019). Homemakers and heights. Intra-household resource allocation and male stature in the Netherlands, 1860-1930, Economics and Human Biology, 34, 194-207

Tassenaar, V.  (2019). Development of regional variety of the biological standard of living in the Netherlands, 1812–1913, Economics & Human Biology 34,151-161.

Kok, J., Beekink, E. & Bijsterbosch, D.  (2018). Environmental Influences on Young Adult Male Height. A Comparison of Town and Countryside in the Netherlands, 1815-1900. Historical Life Course Studies, Volume 6, Special Issue 1, 95-110.

Tassenaar, V., & Karel, E. (2016). The power of the Kashrut: older but shorter: The impact of religious nutritional and hygienic rules on stature and life expectancy of Jewish conscripts in the early 19th centuryEuropean Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70(June 2016), 667-670. DOI: 10.1038/ejcn.2016.24

Beekink, E. & Kok, J. (2016). Temporary and lasting effects of childhood deprivation on male stature. Late adolescent stature and catch-up growth in Woerden (The Netherlands) in the first half of the nineteenth century. The History of the Family 22,196-213. doi: 10.1080/1081602X.2016.1212722




Prof. Jan Kok,