A sensitivity and elasticity analysis is performed on historical life-tables, that of Swedish females from 1751–1755 and 1966–1970, i.e. during and after the Little Ice Age. Coupled with life-history theory, this approach supplies us with some ideas on how stature can be understood as a proxy for conditions during the intrauterine growth, important if we aspire to calibrate proposed climatic perturbations and their effect on past societies. Matrix population models represent a versatile tool that has been used extensively in conservation biology, ecology, primatology and evolutionary demography. As of yet, applications in bioarchaeology/human osteology have been restricted to population forecasting. The following paper introduces matrix population models and discusses their use in bioarchaeology. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.