When traditional measures for economic welfare are scarce or unreliable, stature and the body mass index (BMI) are now widely-accepted measures that reflect economic conditions. However, little work exists for late 19th and early 20th century women’s BMIs in the US and how they varied with economic development. This study shows that after controlling for characteristics, African-American women had greater BMIs than lighter complexioned black and white women. Women from the Southwest were taller and had lower BMIs than women born elsewhere within the US. However, women’s BMIs did not vary by occupations. Women’s BMIs decreased throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which may have implications for the health and cognitive development of lower socioeconomic status children who reached maturity in the mid-20th century.
late 19th and early 20th century women’s BMIs ethnicity and BMI women’s health during economic development