War, food rationing, and socioeconomic inequality in Germany during the First World War


  • The author has benefitted from comments by Mary Cox, Eóin McLaughlin, Valeria Prayon, Richard Smart, the participants of the Economic History Society's Annual Conference in Oxford, UK (2012), the participants of the World Economic History Congress in Stellenbosch, South Africa (2012), participants of the Tübingen-Hohenheim Christmas Workshop in Hohenheim, Germany (2012) (particularly Sibylle Lehmann), as well as three anonymous reviewers.


Germany experienced a devastating period during the First World War due to severely restricted import possibilities and a general shortage of foodstuffs. This study uses the heights of some 4,000 individuals who served during the Second World War to quantify biological living standards from the 1900s to the 1920s, and focuses primarily on socioeconomic inequality during this period. The results suggest that generally the upper social strata, measured by fathers' occupation, exhibited the tallest average height, followed by the middle and lower classes. These socioeconomic differences became more pronounced during the First World War when the rationing system provided a limited food supply. Wealthier individuals were able to purchase additional foodstuffs on black markets. Therefore, children from upper-class families experienced only a small decline in average height compared to their counterparts from the middle and lower social strata.