1st Edition

Economic History of Living Standards in Brazil Policy, Health, and Environment, 1850–1950

By Daniel W. Franken Copyright 2025
    288 Pages 31 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Incorporating political, economic, and environmental factors, this book explores the evolution of health and living standards in Brazil in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It draws on anthropometric data and an interdisciplinary approach to illuminate the profound socio-economic transformations that unfolded in Brazil during this period.

    Through an analysis of archival military and passport records, the book reveals an increase in heights starting in the 1880s, predating the Vargas Era's economic growth and social reforms. It also offers novel insights into Brazil’s regional development divide, showing that regional height differentials existed as early as the mid-19th century (before industrialization began in earnest). Innovative methods, such as surname sorting to study immigration and merging anthropometric data with historical weather records to study the link between climate and health, are introduced. Qualitative evidence on municipal-level clean water and sewage interventions, along with data on malaria and hookworm disease, further corroborate the observed longitudinal trends and spatial patterns in stature.

    Scholars and students of historical anthropometrics, living standards, and Brazilian history will find this book essential, as will those with a broader interest in Latin American or economic history.



    Part I. Research Gap and Methods of Study


    1. What do we Know about Health and Living Standards in Modern Brazil?

    2. Measuring Health and Living Standards: Heights and their Determinants


    Part II. Anthropometric Data Series and Longitudinal Trends


    3. The Sources

    4. Temporal Height Trends of the AHEX and AN Series


    Part III. Potential Explanations of Trends and Patterns


    5. Analysis and Discussion of Longitudinal Trends

    6. The Environment, Policy, and Health




    Appendix A

    Appendix B

    Appendix C

    Appendix D






    Daniel W Franken is Assistant Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, where he teaches classes on globalization, quantitative methods, business history, and modern Latin America. His research interests lie at the intersection between quantitative history and public health, with a special focus on tropical disease and policy. Upcoming research projects include an examination of the impact of sanitation on infant mortality in São Paulo between 1870 and 1940 and a study on hookworm in Brazil in the early-twentieth century.

    Anthropometric history is primarily the study of human height as an indicator of how well the human organism thrived during childhood and adolescents in its socio-economic and epidemiological environment. The development of this field has opened up new vistas on the ways in which economic processes, such as the hidden costs of industrialization and urbanization in the 18th and 19th centuries, affected the populations experiencing them. Populations with a higher nutritional status could afford a diet with essential nutrients for physical growth and are less exposed to diseases; they are obviously going to be healthier and have taller children and will generally enjoy a higher biological standard of living. It is increasingly recognized that GDP is an incomplete indicator of welfare and consequently, physical stature is a valuable addition to the toolkit of economic historians to understand the welfare of populations and this is especially so in times and places where monetary indicators are lacking. With painstaking research, Daniel Franken shows how the biological standard of living improved in many regions of Brazil at the turn of the 20th century, a finding which eluded researchers of the era until now. He also finds that the government’s efforts to improve public sanitation increased the welfare of the rural inhabitants in the North and Northeast of the country, a major achievement at the time. Thus, Franken’s careful contribution increases considerably our knowledge of Brazilian as well as of anthropometric history. Kudos for doing such an extraordinary interdisciplinary study.

    - John Komlos, Professor Emeritus, University of Munich

    Daniel Franken has developed a new set of national and regional data to explore the history of health and welfare in Brazil from 1850 to 1950. He has created large historical samples of human stature data by region from military and passport records, which results in the most complete such study every undertaken for Brazil. Along the way he also provides the reader with a useful summary of the entire field of anthropometric history and its basic findings.  Carefully controlling for the biases in these datasets he is able to reconstruct the height and thus nutritional history of Brazilians by region. His findings re-enforce the well-known regional disparities between the Northern and Southern regions, as well as the relationship between industrialization and height from the late 19th century.  In its very careful handling of height, health, economic and demographic data and explicit testing of various hypotheses with these new datasets, this is a model study. It will prove to be a major addition to the social and economic history of Brazil.

    - Herbert S. Klein, Columbia University & Stanford University


    Economic History of Living Standards in Brazil: Policy, Health, and Environment, 1850-1950 examines historical changes in the biological standards of living in a period of profound transformations in Brazil, the largest economy of South America. The author analyzes the evolution of health and nutrition of the population and its environment, and the impact of these factors on the evolution of human height. The trends in the stature of the Brazilian population shed light on the effectiveness of social and economic policies geared towards improving the population's health and living standards. The book also points to the magnitude and nature of regional inequalities in human development over the past hundred years. This book fills an essential gap in the anthropometric history of Iberoamerica and complements studies on the history of living standards that use traditional indicators. It will be a reference work for economic historians and development economists.

    - Moramay López-Alonso, Rice University.