Average stature reflects cumulative net nutrition and health during economic development. This study introduces a difference-in-decompositions approach to show that although 19th century African-American cumulative net nutrition was comparable to working class whites, it was made worse-off with the transition to free-labor. Average stature reflects net nutrition over the life-course, and slave children’s BMIs increased more with age than whites as they approached entry into the adult slave labor force. Agricultural worker’s net nutrition was better than workers in other occupations but was worse-off under free-labor and industrialization. Within-group stature variation was greater than across-group variation, and white within-group stature variation associated with socioeconomic status was greater than African-Americans.
stature variation cumulative net nutrition Oaxaca decomposition