A 13-year-old today is some 25 centimeters taller than a working-class boy of the 1870s. The increasing stature of Italians neatly summarizes a whole range of improvements in children’s living conditions, from quality of diet to exposure to disease and incidence of child labor. The history of height also has some new lessons to teach us about the timing and location of improvement in wellbeing. During the tumultuous decades from 1910 to 1950, for example, heights increased steadily and at the fastest rate outside the economic miracle years. On the other hand, over much of this period regional mean heights were diverging, the gap between north and south widening. Looking further back in time, Italian unification seems to have had little effect on children’s lives: heights continued to improve at the same rate in the twenty years before and after 1861.
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