Anthropometric History: Revisiting What’s in it for Ireland

Eoin McLaughlin, Christopher L. Colvin*, Matthias Blum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This research note updates Cormac Ó Gráda’s (1996) critical review of the literature on the connection between the stature of the Irish, on the one hand, and their health and living standards, on the other. We find most of the anthropometric data sets used in this literature pertain to Irish emigrants rather than those who stayed behind. We therefore argue prison registers are a more appropriate source of anthropometric information. But results derived from these registers need to be handled with caution as prisoners are a selected population. We uncover the various observable selection biases inherent in prison data and track how they change across the second half of the nineteenth century. We find changes in selection into crime across time are more likely to have been due to institutional rather than economic factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-26
Number of pages24
JournalIrish Economic and Social History
Issue number1
Early online date30 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • anthropometrics
  • post-Famine Ireland
  • prison registers
  • sample selection bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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