A study by the London School of Economics and Social Policy (LSE) has found that men who live their first 20 years under a communist regime are significantly shorter than those who grow up in a democratic society. Women’s heights remained unaffected.
3,000 residents of Slovakia and the Czech Republic participated in the study with researchers analysing data regarding individual birth dates, income and height.
Slovaks born in democracy were found to be on average 1.5cm taller than their counterparts who lived under a communist regime.
The height difference equalled 0.28cm for each year spent living in a democratic society. Czech residents gained only 0.14cm.
Residents born before 1973 were shown to be significantly shorter than those born between 1874 and 1985. A 2cm height difference was proved to exist between the richest and the poorest.
The height increase is due to those growing up in a democratic society having greater access to good nutrition, a disposable income, and a life of their own choosing without the internal strain that a communist regime can impose.
Researchers studied residents of the Czech Republic and Slovakia since the dissolution of the communist regime in 1989.
The study found that there were distinct height differences between the two regimes.
Poorer Slovaks with less access to education benefited more from democracy than their more affluent counterparts.
Women’s height was unaffected by democracy in either Slovakia or the Czech Republic. This suggests that there has been little improvement in the lives of women.
Similar height studies in Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall also support these findings;
West Germans were found to be taller than East Germans by approximately 1cm,” Dr Costa-i-Font says. “More importantly, such a gap appears to have widened only after the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. Since unification there has been a convergence of heights – among men, in any case.”
Socio-political and economic shocks such as the meltdown of the Soviet bloc removed both the barriers to access to nutrition and, more deeply, the institutional settings that constrain people’s lives, Dr Costa-i-Font adds.