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Long-run changes in living standards occupy an important place in development and growth economics, as well as in economic history. An extensive literature uses heights to…
Long-run changes in living standards occupy an important place in development and growth economics, as well as in economic history. An extensive literature uses heights to study historical living standards. Most historical heights data, however, come from selected subpopulations such as volunteer soldiers, raising concerns about the role of selection bias in these results. Variations in sample mean heights can reflect selection rather than changes in population heights. A Roy-style model of the decision to join the military formalizes the selection problem. Simulations show that even modest differential rewards to the civilian sector produce a military heights sample that is significantly shorter than the cohort from which it is drawn. Monte Carlos show that diagnostics based on departure from the normal distribution have little power to detect selection. To detect height-related selection, we develop a simple, robust diagnostic based on differential selection by age at recruitment. A companion paper (H. Bodenhorn, T. Guinnane, and T. Mroz, 2017) uses this diagnostic to show that the selection problems affect important results in the historical heights literature.