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«Joan Costa Font and Lucia Kossarova London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) Contact Address: Lucia Kossarova, London School of ...»

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Anthropometric Dividends of Czechoslovakia’s

Break Up

Joan Costa Font and Lucia Kossarova

London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Contact Address: Lucia Kossarova, London School of Economics and Political

Science (LSE), Houghton Street, WC2A 2AE. E-mail: j.costa-font@lse.ac.uk


Processes of transition to democracy and country break up stand out as ideal

experiments to estimate the impact of wide institutional reform on well-being.

Changes in population heights are regarded as virtuous pointers of well-being improvements in psycho-social environments, which improve with democracy. We analyzed a unique dataset containing individual heights in the Czech Republic and Slovakia to measure the retrospective well-being effects of the two transitions to liberal democracy and capitalism after the split up of Czechoslovakia. an additional year spent under democracy increases height by 0.286cm for Slovaks and 0.148cm for Czechs. Although transition paths differ across the two countries, the absolute height gap between Slovaks and the Czechs did not change. Slovaks benefited more than the Czechs in the bottom and mid tercile.

Keywords: height, democracy, transition, secession, Czechoslovakia, Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition, height dimorphism

1. Introduction Physical stature is regarded a retrospective indicator of “how well the human organism fares during childhood and adolescence in its socio-economic and epidemiological environment” (Komlos & Snowdon, 2005). The latter has paved the way to an established research that substantiates the claim that human heights are a retrospective marker of wellbeing and living standards (Steckel, 2009). Although, calorie and protein intake during one’s childhood and youth are found to directly depend on disposable income and the cost of food, changes in adult height are thought of, more generally, as being physical returns to beneficial psycho-social environments (Steckel, 1995, 2009). That is, a child’s exposure to conditions that are less than optimal might impact its capacity to realize his or her height potential (Eveleth and Tanner, 1976). Some studies estimate that approximately 20 percent of variation in human height is due to ‘beneficial environmental’ factors (Silventoinen, Kaprio, Lahelma, & Koskenvuo, 2000; Stunkard, Foch, & Hrubec, 1986). However, we know relatively little about the potential pathways for such effects.

If social environment can be beneficial from an anthropometric standpoint, one can hypothesize that socio-political and economic shocks such as the meltdown of the Soviet bloc affected both the barriers to access to nutrition and more deeply, the institutional setting constraining individuals’ lives 1. More specifically, institutional triggers (e.g., social norms, restrictions on freedom, etc.) might take a central stage (Sunder, 2003) in human anthropometry. A country’s liberal democratization can For instance, Akresh et al (2012) find that ethnicity specific cohorts exposed to the Nigerian civil war 1967 exhibited lower stature.

potentially reshape the institutional framework (e.g., minority inclusiveness, perceptions of safety and rule of law, welfare programs etc) within which families manage their lives (North, 1991), which in turn can exert an influence in children.

Institutional reforms such as a transition to a market economy engender substantive changes (Collins and Rodrik, 1991), and may lead to social changes including the stimulation of risk taking and the alteration of attitudes towards work all potentially exerting an influence on environmental health effects and ultimately can enhancing an influence on wellbeing in the long run (Costa-Font & Gil, 2008). More specifically, following the “fit through democracy” (Sen, 1999) hypothesis, democracy may lead to the inception of institutions that make children and adolescents’ existence safer and healthier, and thus are expected to be positively associated with height. Consistently, adverse socio-economic developments in society may result either in stagnation or, deterioration in human stature. However, it is important to note that such negative developments can also occur in democratic regimes (Komlos & Baur, 2004). The latter calls for empirical evidence to help to disentangle whether and when economic and political liberalization, exerts an effect on human heights.

Methodologically, the empirical identification of institutional changes in human heights can be controversial, hence the importance of “natural experiments” such as experiences of democratization that can be regarded as exogenous shocks to the majority of the population from which to learn more about the effects on heights.

Among these experiments belong the processes of German reunification (Heineck, 2006; Hiermeyer, 2008; Komlos & Baur, 2004, Komlos & Kriwy, 2003). West Germans were found to be taller than East Germans (approx. 1cm) and, importantly, such a gap appears to have widened only after the Berlin Wall was built (Komlos & Snowdon, 2005) which can be traced back to the standards of living of both children and youth in the West (Hiermeyer, 2008; Komlos & Snowdon, 2005). Conversely, since unification there has been convergence in heights between East and West German males but, paradoxically not among females (Komlos & Kriwy, 2003). The latter is still a question to be better understood.

In contrast to the German unification example, the case of Czechoslovakia stands out as a unique institutional experiment whereby the processes of economic liberalization and the inception of a liberal democracy followed the set up of two independent states that followed different economic development institutional and policy priorities. The combination of economic and political liberalization on the one hand, and the secession of Slovakia on the other, is regarded as a “double bang”, namely a rare case in history where two large liberalization forces coincided (Bookman, 1992). However, whilst the effect of political and economic transition is expected to exert an expansion in heights, it is unclear whether the same applies to secession. Secession would be expected to reshape each country’s institutions so that they tailor their own specific pathways, accommodate minorities, reduce conflict and hence improve institutional quality (Bolton et al, 1996, Wittman, 1991, Friedman, 1977 ). Yet, whether the latter is indeed the case is an empirical question.

Contentious issues include the following:

First, the benefits from transition to a liberal democratic society as well as separation of Czechoslovakia are likely to come with a lag, in part because the effect is intermediated by other reforms (e.g., the development of social protection, implementation of liberalization reforms etc). For instance, prior evidence reveals that during the time of transition, a deterioration in living standards occurred in Eastern Europe before any visible improvements took place (Adeyi, Chellaraj, Goldstein, Preker, & Ringold, 1997; Garner & Terrell, 1998; Milanovic, 1998; Stillman, 2006;

Svejnar, 2002). Height is increasingly used to assess the overall well-being in a country as it is considered to be the “mirror of the society” (Tanner, 1986). It has been used to assess the impact of political regime change in several countries, including East and West Germany or Spain.

Second, most of the existing literature combined the effects of democratization and secession together, which leads us to the problem of correctly identifying the effect of the break up from that of democratization. The Czechoslovakian case allows us to identify the trajectories before and after the break up. Just like the literature on secession, the evidence on the democratic transition and its effects is even more extensive, covering all areas from economic welfare to institutional changes (Hausner, Jessop, & Nielsen, 1995; Inglot, 2008, 2009; Kostecki, Zukrowska, & Goralczyk, 2000; Milanovic, 1998; Whitefield, 1993; Winiecki & Kondratowicz, 1993) to health effects (Bobak & Feachem, 1992; Cornia & Paniccià, 2000; Ginter, Simko, & Wsolova, 2009; Lawson & Nemec, 2003; Stillman, 2006). Broadly speaking, the evidence points to the difficult transition years with Czech Republic having performed better than Slovakia on a range of aspects. An inescapable issue lies in distinguishing the effects of economic liberalization which encompass reforms that improve access to food and new technologies from the introduction of democratic decision-making systems (Tavares & Wacziarg, 2001). 2 Prior to the transition, poor nutrition was a problem due to seasonal unavailability of certain foods and the Indeed, while political liberalization is assumed to involve those individuals who uphold democratic values in collective decision-making, economic liberalization refers solely to the areas of economic activity and commerce.

opening of the boarders enabled easier access to fruits and vegetable consumption (McKee, 2004). Difference by income quintiles would be expected to contain some information that allows us to ascertain whether one effect over the other prevailed.

Eveleth and Tanner (1976) in their summary of growth studies suggest “if a particular stimulus is lacking at a time when it is essential for the child…the child’s development may be shunted…” (Eveleth & Tanner, 1976, p.222). However, there is evidence that for deprivation to have an effect on adult height, it has to be severe and long-term during key periods of growth as after short nutritional shocks normal height is usually restored (Steckel, 2009).

Finally, the effect of the break up is even more complex insofar as both Slovakia and the Czech Republic lost some scale and gained some homogeneity to overcome the complexities of public decision making in multinational environments (Alesina and Spolaore, 1997, 2003). However, given that transition implied a whole institutional build-up (Milanovic, 1998), the costs of break up at that transition point might have been mitigate. Hence, the direction of the effect is empirically contested.

This paper attempts to shed some light on this question which has not received attention in the literature 3.

This paper empirically examines the variation in heights across time to examine the potential ‘height effect’ effect of political and economic liberalization (the transition from communism to a liberal democracy and further country break up The literature comparing Czech Republic and Slovakia post-secession focuses mainly on the degree of similarity or difference in the political context and economy (Bartosova & Zelinsky, 2013;

Meszaros, 1999) as well as wellbeing (Potucek & Radicova, 1997).

of Czechoslovakia 4 ) on human heights. More specifically, we are interested in understanding how institutional reforms have reflected in the expansion of overall standard of living measured by changed in heights, and how individual and political wellbeing fared in the institutions from Slovakia and the Czech Republic after secession. Given the nature of elitism democracy in Easter Europe (Przeworski, 1991), the rise of income inequalities and the reduction on gender inequality after 1989 (Heyns, 2005), we examine stature changes across age groups as well as by gender and income groups. The latter is expected to help to further identify who were the winners of the transition to a liberal democracy and market economy, as well quantify the magnitude of gender and social inequalities. The latter is a question that we believe can contribute to testing some of the contentious hypothesis of the effect of democracy and secession on wellbeing (Nobles, Brown, & Catalano, 2010).

The next section contains the background on the specific case study. Section three reports the data and methods. Section four contains the results, section five the robustness checks and a final discussion section concludes the paper.

2. Institutional Setting

–  –  –

After the II World War, in 1948 Czechoslovakia fell under the Soviet influence. The latter implied a ban on civil and political liberties alongside media For simplicity purposes, in the remaining of the chapter we will be using the term “democracy” even though we are referring more broadly to political and economic liberalization.

censorship and economic dirigisme with the implementation of production plans and quotas. To enforce such an institutional setting, penalties included forced labor camps and possibly execution for extreme cases (Janik, 2010). The regime lasted forty years until 1989 with only a small spell of the Prague spring 5 when reform was attempted.

Although initially the steps taken in the two federations of Czechoslovakia were similar, in 1992 a peaceful secession process was designed by the two main community leaders to create two separate countries in 1993. The events of 1989 and 1992 can be regarded as a “double bang”, a rare case in history where two large forces coincided (Bookman, 1992). It was first a transition from centrally planned to a market economy and then the secession of Slovakia that happened virtually simultaneously. Some even suggest that it was a “triple transition”: democratization, marketization, and a national transformation (Leff, 1996).

After secession the form and speed of the democratization and liberalization reforms gradually began to differ. Czech Republic initially implemented aggressive economic reforms in combination with socio-economic entitlements and democracy. In contrast, in Slovakia the first years after the break-up were characterized by a continuation of an authoritarian rule which left the country economically and politically isolated (Inglot, 2009; Meszaros, 1999). Slovakia was severely disadvantaged throughout the 1990s in terms of policy leadership and necessary social expertise, coupled with rapid institutional changes departing from those of Czechoslovakia’s past and in search of its new social welfare model (Inglot, 2009; Potucek & Radicova, 1997). Nonetheless, by 1998 the rapid progress in Czech Republic slowed down and the reverse happened in Slovakia; it appeared that the Czech Republic was ready to join the EU while 5 In 1968 the “Prague Spring” marked a short-lived period of liberalization and democratization with reforms but quickly ended with the Warsaw Pact troops’ invasion; any attempts for reforms were crushed and oppression under Soviet Communism continued for the next 20 years (Janik 2010).

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