Early-life conditions, height and mortality of nineteenth-century Dutch vagrant women

Kristina Thompson*, Vincent Tassenaar, Sietske Wiersma, France Portrait

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
37 Downloads (Pure)


Adult height is a remarkably accurate summary of early-life environmental conditions. Because of that, height may be negatively associated with mortality. These relationships – between early-life conditions and height, and between height and mortality – have been well-studied in modern samples of both genders, and in historical samples of men. However, these relationships are understudied historical samples of women. Therefore, this study aimed to better-understand the determinants and consequences of female adult height. More specifically, this study examined the relationships between (1) early-life environmental conditions and adult height, and (2) adult height and mortality.

To accomplish this, we used a unique dataset that provided lifetime information of 1,088 women who were born between 1811 and 1838, and who were convicted of vagrancy and sent to the penal colonies of Veenhuizen and de Ommerschans. An ordered logistic regression was used to assess the relationship between early-life determinants and adult height. Cox regression analyses were performed to investigate the relationship between height and mortality. In terms of findings, region of birth, population size of municipality at birth, parental socio-economic status and religion were associated with adult height. The results examining height’s relationship to mortality were more surprising: taller vagrant women – those more than one standard deviation above the mean height – had higher probabilities of dying earlier than those within 0.5 standard deviations of the mean height. Ultimately, this study adds to the evidence that taller height is likely not universally beneficial for living longer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-338
Number of pages30
JournalThe History of the Family. An International Quarterly
Issue number2
Early online date24-Mar-2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Anthropometric history
  • Vagrancy
  • Early-life indicators
  • health outcome measures


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