Two worlds apart: Determinants of height in late 18th century central Mexico

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Anthropometric literature on the American territories of the Hispanic monarchy before their independence is still scarce. We attempt to expand the field with a case study that includes some important novelties.

Albeit our main source, the military records of the Censo de Revillagigedo (conducted in the early 1790s), has already been used, the sample size and the geographical scope are unprecedented: 19,390 males of four ethnicities (castizos, españoles, mestizos, and mulatos) aged from 16 to 39 from 24 localities, including towns and villages scattered across central regions of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. We build a database that, complemented with information on resource endowments obtained from other sources, permits to analyze the determinants of height.

Our results show the importance of spatial differences as well as the significance of ethnicity, occupation, rurality, age and resource endowments as determinants of height. Unprivileged mulatos are only 0.5 cm shorter than, assumedly privileged, españoles in the “first world” (El Bajío) and 1.3 cm taller in the “second world” (Eastern Central Highlands). In turn, living in the “first world” implies being between nearly 1.5 cm and 5 cm taller than the inhabitants of the “second world”. Our estimates of physical statures are placed within an international comparative context and offer a relatively “optimistic” picture.

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