Changes in the height of the tropopause provide a sensitive indicator of human effects on climate. A previous attempt to identify human effects on tropopause height relied on information from ‘first-generation’ reanalyses of past weather observations. Climate data from these initial model-based reanalyses have well-documented deficiencies, raising concerns regarding the robustness of earlier detection work that employed these data. Here we address these concerns using information from the new second-generation ERA-40 reanalysis. Over 1979 to 2001, tropopause height increases by nearly 200 m in ERA-40, partly due to tropospheric warming. The spatial pattern of height increase is consistent with climate model predictions of the expected response to anthropogenic influences alone, significantly strengthening earlier detection results. Atmospheric temperature changes in two different satellite data sets are more highly correlated with changes in ERA-40 than with those in a first-generation reanalysis, illustrating the improved quality of temperature information in ERA-40. Our results provide support for claims that human activities have warmed the troposphere and cooled the lower stratosphere over the last several decades of the 20th century, and that both of these changes in atmospheric temperature have contributed to an overall increase in tropopause height.