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03 Apr 2018

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The quality of housing during a child’s growth phase is a significant influence on adult health and life expectancy, according to research by Carolin Schmidt, to be presented at the Economic History Society's 2018 annual conference. The results of this study are particularly relevant for slums in today’s developing countries. 

The international study analyses the long-run relationship between housing quality and adult height between 1870 and 1965. Adult height is commonly used to approximate health, since detailed health indicators as we know them today were not recorded for many countries before the 1950s. 

Bathrooms, hot water and more floor space per household member curtail the spread of contagious diseases, and having access to these amenities during childhood contributes significantly to one’s health later in life. This is because diseases use up nutrients that would otherwise be used for physical growth.

A child that lives in a low-quality home will therefore become a shorter adult than a child that grows up under more favourable conditions. Serious deficits in housing quality cannot be made up for in later years of life when the body has ceased to grow. 

According to the study, improving housing quality over the period 1870-1965 can explain up to 15%, or 1.5 centimetres, of adult height increases. Such a height differential was equivalent to 1.2–2.7 more years of life expectancy. This relationship holds irrespective of household income or nutrition. 

Because in many of today’s slums in developing countries, living conditions do not differ much from those in past centuries, the findings of this research are important for third world countries and other, less developed, parts of the world and thus provide valuable insights for policy-making. 


To learn more about this research, please contact:

Centre for European Economic Research (Mannheim, Germany)
Carolin Schmidt
Office phone: 0049 621 1235 287

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