Height, occupation, and intergenerational mobility: an instrumental variable analysis of Dutch men, birth years 1850-1900

Thompson, Kristina; Portrait, France


Height and labor market outcomes appear to be related to one another. The taller people are, the more likely they are to have better jobs and to earn more money. This is especially the case for men. However, whether height is causally related to labor market outcomes is an open question, which instrumental variable (IV) analysis may help to answer. To our knowledge, no study has yet used IV analysis to test these relationships in a historical context. The present study addressed this gap, by examining height’s relationship to occupational status and intergenerational mobility in a sample of Dutch men, birth years 1850 through 1900. Data were drawn from: the Historical Sample of the Netherlands, providing life course information on the research person; the Heights and Life Courses Database, providing information on the research person’s height at conscription; and the Male Kin Height Database, providing information on the average height of the research person’s full brothers. This combination of data sources yielded a sample of 1,465 men. Height z-score’s relationships to occupational status (characterized as HISCAM score), and to intergenerational mobility (characterized as the difference between research person’s HISCAM score and father’s HISCAM score) were examined. The average of brothers’ heights z-score was used as an instrumental variable. In terms of results, one standard deviation increase in height was associated with a 1.370 increase in HISCAM score (95% CI: 0.310–2.429), and a 1.127 increase in intergenerational mobility score (95% CI: −0.114–2.368). As Dutch men were growing taller and had greater abilities to choose their occupations, it appeared that tallness was associated with a better job, and increased intergenerational occupational mobility. This study thus offered preliminary evidence that height and labor market outcomes were perhaps causally related during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.