Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The power of the kashrut: older but shorter. The impact of religious nutritional and hygienic rules on stature and life expectancy of Jewish conscripts in the early 19th century



We test the impact of several demographic, economic and social factors on stature in an early nineteenth century environment.


We use a database of conscripts from the period 1818–1860 of a rural province in The Netherlands (Drenthe). This area had a rather high biological standard of living. This database of 413 conscripts contains information about family structure, family rank order, height, tax income, occupation and age of death. Conscripts came from two communities: one from a particular village (Oosterhesselen) and the other was Jewish conscripts that came from the countryside of the province.


Our statistical analysis shows a positive significant relationship between family size and height, which confirms the resource dilution theory. Remarkably, the sign of the relation between family size and life expectancy is inverse. Other factors such as the potato crisis and income had the expected effect on conscript heights. The community effect was strong. Jewish conscripts were much shorter than their counterparts. Access to nutrition, the specific food laws and other factors can explain this difference.


An increasing sibship size had a negative impact on body height but positive effects on life expectancy when adulthood was reached. Specifically for the Jewish community was the positive effect of the death of the father on conscript height. The mechanisms behind this phenomenon are unclear and open for further research.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Tassenaar V . De biologische levensstandaard in Drenthe, 1815-1860. Het verloren Arcadia. Labyrinth Publisher: Capelle ad Ijssel, The Netherlands, 2000.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Öberg S . Sibship size and height before during and after the fertility decline: A test of the resource dilution hypothesis. Demogr Res 2015; 32: 29–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Ripley WZ . The Races of Europe: A Sociological Study. D. Appleton and Co: New York, 1899.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bolk L . Over de toeneming in lichaamslengte der mannelijke bevolking in Nederland. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd 1909; 53: 1703–1721.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Kopczynski M . The physical stature of Jewish men in Poland in the second half of the 19th century. Economics and Human Biology 2011; 9: 203–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bogar D . Wealthier Jews, taller Gentiles: inequality of income and physical stature in fin-de-siècle Hungary. Econ Human Biol 2013; 11: 433–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Hermanussen M, Meitlinger T, Veldhuis JD, Low MJ, Pfäffle R, Staub K et al. Adolescent growth: genes, hormones and the peer group. Pediatr Endocrinol Rev 2014; 11: 341–353.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Bogin B, Hermanussen M, Blum WF, Aßmann C . Sex, sport, IGF-1 and the community effect in height hypothesis. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2015; 12: 4816–4832.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Becker GS . A Treatise on the Family. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1993.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Oppers VM . Analyse van de Acceleratie van de menselijke Lengtegroei door Bepaling van het Tijdstip van de Groeifasen. University of Amsterdam: Amsterdam, 1963.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Alter George, Oris Michel . Effects of inheritance and environment on the heights of brothers in nineteenth-century Belgium. Human Nature 2008; 19: 44–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Hermanussen M, Hermanussen B, Burmeister J . The association between birth order and adult stature. Ann Human Biol 1988; 15: 161–165.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Karel EH, Paping R . In the shadow of the nobility: local farmer elites in the Northern Netherlands from the 17th to the 19th century Freist D, Schmekel F . Hinter dem Horizont: Projection und Distinktion ländlicher Oberschichten im europäischen Vergleich 17. bis 19. Jahrhundert. Aschendorff Verlag: Münster, 2013; 43–54.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to V Tassenaar.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tassenaar, V., Karel, E. The power of the kashrut: older but shorter. The impact of religious nutritional and hygienic rules on stature and life expectancy of Jewish conscripts in the early 19th century. Eur J Clin Nutr 70, 667–670 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links