Average Height for Males and Females in 1912 and 2012

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, February 6, 1912:   Am trying to get ready for monthly exams. They come tomorrow and the day after. I have sad hopes and misgivings for one study especially.

Source: Durrell's School Algebra (1912)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I’ve recently posted many of Grandma’s diary recent entries which indicated that she was working very hard on her algebra.

And, I’ve provided a lot of background information about algebra a hundred years ago. When I got ready to write this post, I wondered what else I might write about algebra.

To get inspiration, I flipped through  a 1912 algebra textbook —and I happened to notice that one of the problems in  the book was about the average height of males and females.—and it included a data table with heights for selected ages between 3 and 21.

This reminded me that I’ve heard that on average people are taller now than they were a hundred years ago—and the next thing I knew I was headed off on a tangent.

Average Height by Age and Gender, 1912 and 2012

Click on graph to enlarge.

Click on graph to enlarge.

I found recent Centers for Disease Control data on average heights in the US.  Since 2012 data are not yet available, I assumed that it is the same as it was in recent years.  I also assumed that the data in the algebra book was correct for 1912.

On average, three-year-old children are much taller now than they were 100 years ago. Three-year-old boys are almost 4 inches taller; girls about 3 and 1/2 inches.

By age, 21,  males now are, on average, more than 1 1/2  inches taller than they were a hundred years ago. In 1912 the average 21-year-old male was 68.25 inches (5 feet 8.25 inches) tall. Now the average male in the US  is 69.9 inches (5 feet 9.9 inches)  tall.

Females are about 1/2 inch taller now than they were a hundred years ago. In 1912 the average 21-year-old female was 63 .75 inches (5 feet, 3.75 inches) tall.  Now the average 21-year-old female in the US is 64.3 inches (5 feet 4.3 inches) tall.

Percentage of Consumer Expenditures on Food, Housing, and Apparel: 1912 and 2012

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, January 2, 1912: Started into school again after such a long vacation. Wasn’t glad it was over either. Want to study harder now and make better marks than I did the fore part of the term. That is a new year’s resolution I made yesterday. Bumped my head a little while again above the eye. Kinda sore. Isn’t this here scratching?

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Time will tell whether Grandma was able to keep her resolution to study harder.

Today many people make resolutions to manage their money better in the upcoming year. I was surprised to discover that what people spend their money on has changed over time.A hundred years ago about 30% of a household’s expenditures were on food—today it’s approximately 12%.

But we now spend  a higher percentage of our income on housing than was done in the past. In 1912 people spent about 15% on housing; today we spend about 34%.

Given today’s consumer culture, I was surprised to discover that we spend relatively less on apparel. A hundred years ago about 15% of household expenditures were for apparel; today it’s only about 4%. I suppose that it was more labor intensive to make clothes and shoes back then. Also, families were bigger so maybe households needed to spend more on apparel.

I got the 1912 data from an article in the January 1912 issue of Ladies Home Journal on budgeting. For 2012, I used data from the 2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics since that was the most recent year available.

U.S. Crop Yields and Production, 1911 and 2011

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, October 15, 1911: Was so busy all day. Had to help Daddy pick corn and husked pop corn between loads. Both of these jobs aren’t finished yet either.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Whew, it sounds like a lot of work. There weren’t combines (or even mechanical corn pickers) a hundred years ago. Horses would have been used and much of the labor would have been by hand.

This entry made me curious about how crop production and yields have changed over the last 100 years.

Crop Production

Corn production has mushroomed. In 1911, approximately 2,475 million bushels of corn were produced in the US. In 2011, about 12,447 million bushels were produced.

So few soybeans were produced in 1911 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not even track it.  In 1931, 17 million bushels of soybeans were produced in the U.S. –and by 2011 approximately 3,329 million bushels were produced.

Barley and oats production decreased substantially between 1911 and 2011—probably due at least in part to the reduced number of horses that needed to be fed in the US. Wheat production increased a little over the years.

Crop Yields

Crop yields increased significantly for all the major cops between 1911 and 2011.

Corn yields increased the most. For example, in 1911, about 24 bushels per acre were produced. This increased to approximately 148 bushels per acre in 2011. Yields increased substantially between the 1930’s and 1950’s due to the widespread shift from open pollinated corn to hybrid corn. The increased use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides in the later part of the last century also increased yields.  In recent years the use of genetically modified seed has led to major yield  increases.

Another factor that has increased the average yield per acre over the past 100 years, is that some of the less productive land in the US has been taken out of production.

Data Source: US Department of Agriculture. For some crops 2011 data are not yet available. If not available, 2010 data were used to construct the figures.

Life Expectancy–1911 and 2011

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, August 9, 1911: Today is passing and my opportunity for writing anything about it is passing with it. It is not necessary to jot down the happenings of every occurrence.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’ll tell you about some statistics I found on the Center for Disease Control website. I’ve often heard that people live longer now than they used to, and I wondered how much longer they lived.

In 1911 the life expectancy at birth for females was 53 years; for males it was 50 years.

Grandma was born in 1895. I don’t have data for people born in 1895, but assume that the life expectancy was even lower then than in 1911. Grandma lived longer than average.  She died in 1981 when she was 85-years-old.

Since more children died shortly after birth a hundred years ago than today, I thought that might affect the birth life expectancies. So I also checked the life expectancy at age 60.In 1911 a 60-year-old female could expect to live 15 more years; a male could expect to live 14 more years. In 2011 a 60-year-old female can expect to live 24 more years and a male can expect to live 21 more years. (For those who care–The 2011 numbers are for the most recent available year. The Center for Disease Control has not yet released the 2011 life expectancy tables, so those estimates may go up or down slightly after they becomes available.)

Are You Obese?: 1911 and 2011

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, June 9, 1911: Must have forgotten what I did today. It won’t come into my head when I am ready to write it down.

William Taft (President in 1911): The most obese president in US history

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t have much have much to say today, I’m going to go off on a tangent. When I look at photos from a hundred years ago some of the people look stout to me—well, frankly they look obese.

We hear that people are more likely to be obese today than in the past—and I wondered what people considered a healthy weight to be a hundred years ago.

I did a little research and found how one author defined obesity 100 years ago. According to Anna M. Galbraith, M.D. in a book published in 1911 called Personal Hygiene and Physical Training for Women:

Women should range in weight from one and eight-tenths to two and two-thirds pounds to each inch in height. In order to determine your own factor in this respect divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches. Any weight above two and one-half pounds to the inch in stature may be considered as excessive, inasmuch as it adds nothing to one’s mental or physical efficiency, and is frequently the forerunner to obesity.

According to the book, in 1911 the average woman was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 133 pounds. According the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website the average woman today is still 5 feet 4 inches tall, but now weighs 165 pounds.

The chart above indicates when a woman was considered normal weight, overweight, and obese in 1911 and 2011. I was amazed to discover that according to the chart I’d be considered normal weight in 1911, but overweight today.

For 1911 I used the quote above to estimate the weights. I assumed that:

Normal weight = 1.8 pounds X height in inches to 2. 5 pounds X height in inches

Overweight = 2.5 pounds X height in inches to 2.67 pounds X height in inches

Obese =  Over 2.67 pounds X height in inches

Today a person’s body mass index (BMI) indicates whether they are a healthy weight. BMI is calculated based upon a person’s height and weight and is calculated using a formula that is more complex than the ones used in 1911.

Median Age at Marriage–Then and Now

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, March 22, 1911:  The events of the day are not worth the time to mention them. I am waiting and hoping to get a bid to the wedding.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Other diary entries indicated that Edith (last name unknown) was planning to marry Harry Reynolds. I assume this is the upcoming wedding that Grandma was referring to. Edith and Grandma’s sister Ruth were both seniors at McEwensville High School.

Edith was probably about 18 years old. I’ve heard that the average age when people get married has increased a lot over the years. Until I did a little research I assumed that 18 probably was a fairly typical marriage age a hundred years ago.

I was surprised to learn that in 1910 the median age at first marriage  was 21.6 for females and 25.1 for males.

The median marriage age steadily decreased until the middle of the 20th century. In 1950, it was 20.3 for females and 22.8 for males.

The trend then reversed and by 2007, it had increased to 25.0 for females and 26.7 for males–and preliminary estimates for 2010 suggest that it has continued to climb to about 26 for females and 28 for males.

Another surprise for me was how the age gap between females and males has decreased over time. On average in 1910 women were about 3 1/2 years younger than their spouses. (This statistic makes it seem even more surprising that Grandma and Grandpa married each other. They also had a 3 1/2 year age gap–but she was 3 1/2 years older than him.) Now the average age gap is probably slightly less than 2 years.


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