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Boas, Franz. Race, Language and Culture – T04


Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants
of Immigrants 11

The following is a brief summary of the principal results of a study
of the anthropometric characteristics of immigrants and their

1. American-born descendants of immigrants differ in type from
their foreign-born parents. The changes which occur among various
European types are not all in the same direction. They develop in early
childhood and persist throughout life. 22

Increase (+) or Decrease (-) of Measurements of Children of Immigrants
Born in the United States Compared with Those of
Immigrants Born in Europe (p. 56 Final Report)

tableau Nationality and Sex | Length of head mm. | Width of head mm. | Cephalic Index | Width of face mm. | Stature cm. | Weight | Bohemians | Hebrews | Males | Females60

tableau Nationality and Sex | Length of head mm. | Width of head mm. | Cephalic Index | Width of face mm. | Stature cm. | Weight | Sicilians | Neapolitans | Males | Females

2. The influence of American environment makes itself felt with increasing
intensity, according to the time elapsed between the arrival of
the mother and the birth of the child. 13

image Hebrew | Siclian | Neapolitan | Those born in Europe 5, 10, 15, 20 years before immigration | Those born in America 5, 10, 20 years after immigration of mother | Years

Fig. 1. Cephalic index of immigrants and their descendants.

The changes of the initial values for 0 years which are in the direction
of the observed changes deserve attention.

Fig. 1 represents the average values of the cephalic index of the immigrants
born in Europe and their descendants born in the United
States according to the interval between immigration of mother and
birth, respectively according to the age at the time of immigration.

The differences in cephalic index between parents and their own
61American-born children, born less than ten years after arrival of the
mother, and of those born more than ten years after the arrival of the
mother, are, -0.83 and -1.92 respectively. 14 Their difference is, therefore,

image Males | Females
Lenght of head

image Males | Females
Width of head

Cephalic index

Fig. 2. Changes of head measurements during period of growth.

1.09 with an error of about ±0.22, so that the significance of this
difference is also quite probable.62

3. The observations on intraracial heredity show an increased variability
of children of dissimilar parents, which proves a regression of
the children to either parental type, not a regression to the mid-parental
type. 15

tableau Difference between Cephalic Indices of Parents | Square of Variability of Children | Cases

* The ± in the Final Report are in error.

It is apparent that the variability increases rapidly for the greater
differences between parents.

4. The head measurements show the same acceleration of growth
during the prepubertal period as has long been known for measurements
of the bulk of the body, i.e., stature and weight 26 (Fig. 2).

5. The average stature of children
decreases with the size of the
family 37 (Fig. 3).

image Excess in Centimeters | Number of Children

Fig. 3. Excess of stature over average
stature for families of various sizes.

Incidentally a number of problems
were touched upon which
are, however, of secondary importance
in relation to the whole
problem, and the investigation of
which was necessary for the correct
interpretation of the observations referred to before.

6. The comparison of immigrants and their descendants necessarily
refers to groups which immigrated at different periods. For instance,
15-year-old American-born boys are children of parents who immigrated
more than 15 years ago; while 15-year-old foreign-born boys
63are children of parents who immigrated less than 15 years ago. If,
therefore, the constitution of the immigration representing a certain
people changed, there would be an apparent change of type, which in
reality would reflect only the differences in type of the immigrants of

image Cephalic Index | Year of Immigration | Year of Birth in United States

image Cephalic Index | Year of Immigration | Year of Birth in United States

image Cephalic Index | Year of Immigration | Year of Birth in United States

Fig. 4. Cephalic index of individuals born in Europe who immigrated
in certain years compared with that of American-born descendants
of mothers who immigrated in the corresponding years.

various periods. A comparison of individuals born in Europe in a certain
year with American-born descendants of mothers who immigrated
in the corresponding year showed that for each year the differences
observed in the total series persist (Fig. 4).64

7. The differences between immigrants and their own European-born
children are always less than those between them and their own
American-born children

image Foreign-born | American-born

Fig. 5. Width of face of adult Bohemian males
born in Europe who immigrated in certain years,
compared with that of American-born descendants
of mothers who immigrated in corresponding

and the differences agree
in direction and value
with those obtained from
the general population.
(Partial Report, pp. 44-50;
Abstract, p. 47; Final
Report, pp. 69-70, 117-128).
Thus the cephalic
index of American-born
children of Hebrew immigrants
is by 1.60 units
lower than that of their
European born children.
For Sicilians it is 1.78 units higher than that of their European-born
children. The following table gives the average differences between
measurements of foreign-born immigrants and their own American born

tableau Measurements | Bohemians | Hebrews | Sicilians | Neapolitans | Weight of observations | Stature (mm.) | Length of head (mm.) | Width of head (mm.) | Cephalic index | Width of face (mm.)

* Erroneously in the Final Report p. 70, 1.50.

8. The width of face of American-born children of immigrants is
decidedly narrower than that of the foreign-born (Fig. 5). Furthermore
there is a decided decline of those born a considerable length of
time after the immigration of the mother, so that we get the impression
of a cumulative effect of American city environment (Fig. 6). The
phenomenon is complicated by the fact that the width of face of the
immigrants themselves has been declining, in so far as those born in early
years, beginning with 1880, show a wider face than later immigrants. 1865

9. When the Hebrew boys are classified according to their pubescence
in groups of about equal physiological development, as I, II, III (prepubescent,
beginning pubescence, completed pubescence), the same
differences persist (Fig. 7). 19 This observation is important because it

image Those born in Europe 5, 10, 15, 20 years before immigration | Those born in America 5, 10, 20 years after immigration of mother | Years

Fig. 6. Width of face of Bohemians and their descendants.

shows that the differences are not due to a retardation of development,
for no appreciable differences have been found in the tempo of development
of the two groups.

image Foreign-born | American-born | Group with completed pubescence | Group with geginning pubescence | Infantile or prepubescence group | Age

Fig. 7. Relation between stature and maturity for foreign-born
and American-born boys.

10. Basing my inquiry on the assumption that the variations of hair
color in any particular people follow the exponential law, I have shown
66that numerical values for pigmentation can be obtained. 110 I have divided
the whole series of pigmentation from black to ash-blond in 20
equidistant steps, excluding reds, 0 being black, 20 ash-blond, but nor
without pigment like the hair of albinos. In this manner the results
given in the accompanying diagram showing the degree of darkening
with increasing age were obtained (Fig. 8).

According to this table, in the rate the darkening amounts to nearly
5 units — one-fourth of the whole scale of colors. If the amount of darkening
of females in the first two groups is less, we have to allow for the
dyeing of hair, which is practised by many women, and also for the use
of false hair by married Jewesses. For this reason I do not lay great
stress upon the figures obtained from observations on adult females,

image Foreign-born | American-born | Males | Females | Age

Fig. 8. Color of hair of foreign-born and American-born Hebrews,
showing the increase of pigmentation with increasing age.

except among the Italians. It would seem as though among them the
hair of women averages a little lighter than that of men. This apparent
different may, however, be due to the lighter color of the tips of the
long hair of women. The process of darkening progresses at least until
the twenty-sixth year, if not longer. An attempt to calculate the annual
amount of darkening for the Hebrews shows this very clearly. For dark-haired
as well as for light-haired groups the darkening amounts to about
0.2 point a year.

It has been objected 211 that the number of observations on which these
67results have been based are inadequate, but a comparison of the values
of the observed differences and their errors proves that this criticism
is not valid. 112

It might perhaps have been said that a psychological cause existed in
the minds of the observers, which produced one personal equation for
foreign-born and another for American-born. It is well known that
an expected result may influence an observation. The study of the personal
equations of the observers disproves this assumption. Besides this,
the results among various types lie in different directions; the observers
did not know what to expect; in many cases the statistical information
was recorded by one observer, the measurements by another; and constant
changes between foreign-born and American-born occurred in
practice. All these make such a psychological explanation highly improbable.
Here it must be considered as particularly important that the
results agree with the previous observations by Ammon in Baden and
Livi in Italy, which are, therefore corroborative evidence of the accuracy
of the results.

Other objections have been raised. Thus Fehlinger thinks that the
individuals investigated are not of pure descent, but in part children of
parents of mixed nationality. This is a misunderstanding of my work.
His claim that measurements of stature and head form — which, he says,
are exceedingly variable in almost all human types — lead more easily to
errors than other measurements, I fail to understand.

Attempts have been made, either to deny that any changes occur, or
to explain the observations as due to selection. The former attempt has
been made by Sergi, 213 who interprets the continued occurrence of long,
medium and round heads in New York by claiming that they continue
to exist but that the relative frequency of their occurrence has changed.
I discuss the arbitrary character of this explanation on p. 73 of this

I turn to the question of the interpretation of my observations and
repeat, first of all, my own conclusions. Starting from the observation
that changes in the values of the averages occur at all ages, that these
are found among individuals born almost immediately after the arrival
of their mothers, and that they increase with the length of time elapsed
between the arrival of the mother and the birth of the child, I have
68tried to investigate various causes that might bring about such a phenomenon.
I have, as I believe, disproved the possibility that the difference
between the two groups of American-born and foreign-born may
be due to differences in their ancestry. This objection has been raised
by Professor Sergi. 114 As mentioned before, the comparison of parents
and their own children, and the comparison between immigrants who
came to America in one particular year and the descendants who came
to America in the same year, seem to eliminate entirely this source of
error, which has been considered by me in detail.

Less satisfactory is the attempted proof of the theory that the cradling
of infants has no influence upon their head form. The fact remains that
among the Hebrews there is a radical difference in the bedding and
swathing of infants born abroad and of those born here. Against this
fact may be adduced the other one that no such radical difference
in the treatment of children exists among the Sicilians, and that, nevertheless,
changes occur and that these are in a direction opposite to
those observed among the Hebrews. Even more unfavorable to this
theory are the changes in width of face among Bohemians which develop
among immigrating children who are no longer subject to such
mechanical influences. I consider a further investigation into the influences
of the method of bedding children desirable. 215

It also occurred to me that illegitimate births of children whose
fathers were Americans might bring about changes. I have disproved
this assumption by proving that the degree of similarity between American-born
children and their reputed fathers is as great as that between
foreign-born children and their fathers (Abstract, p. 51; Final Report,
pp. 154 et seq.). Besides this the social conditions of the Hebrew,
Italian, and Bohemian colonies are not at all favorable to such an assumption.
This point has been raised again by an anonymous English
critic, 316 without, however, referring to my discussion of the question and
the answer given by me.

After disposing of these points which would give the phenomenon
an accidental character, without deep biological significance, I have
taken up the biological problem itself, and first of all have called attention
to the parallel observations by Ammon and Livi and suggested that
the changes observed by them as occurring between urban and rural
69populations may be due to the same causes as those observed in the
descendants of immigrants. If this be true, then Ammon's interpretation
of the phenomenon as due to selection, and Livi's as due to the
more varied descent of urban populations, which makes them deviate
from excessive values to more median values, must be revised.

I have also referred to the possibility that the breaking of the more
or less inbred lines of small European villages after arrival of the people
in America and the consequent change in the line of descent may be a
cause producing changes in type.

Finally, I have pointed out that the changes can be accounted for by
a process of selection only, if an excessively complicated adjustment of
cause and effect in regard to the correlation of mortality and bodily
form were assumed — so intricate that the theory would become improbable
on account of its complexity.

It will, therefore, be seen that my position is that I find myself unable
to give an explanation of the phenomena, and that all I try to do is to
prove that certain explanations are impossible. I think this position
is not surprising, since what happens here happens in every purely
statistical investigation. The resultant figures are merely descriptions of
facts which in most cases cannot be discovered by any other means.
These observations, however, merely set us a biological problem that can
be solved only by biological methods. No statistics will tell us what may
be the disturbing elements in intra-uterine or later growth that result in
changes of form. It may be that new statistical investigations in other
types of environment may give us a grouping of these phenomena which
suggests certain groups of causes, clues that can then be followed up by
biological methods — it is certainly asking too much to expect the solution
of this problem from one series of observations. I at least am more
inclined to ask for further material from other sources than to force a
solution that must be speculative.

This defines my position toward the criticisms of Gaston Backman 117
and Giuseppe Sergi. The former claims that the explanations given by
Ammon are adequate, and simply identifies my observations and his.
He overlooks the all-important difference that I have compared parents
and their own children, a method which introduces an entirely new
point of view and practically disproves Ammon's claim that these
changes are due to natural selection. I have always considered Livi's
theory as the most plausible explanation of the European observations,
70and still think that it must be a strong contributory cause, although it is
not applicable to our series and for this reason can no longer be considered
as explaining the whole phenomenon. Backman's views are, it
seems, not in accord with the results of our inquiry. He states: “The
causes underlying the alteration will then have to be sought in factors
of selection that may be of the most divergent nature. When, nevertheless,
Boas wants to maintain that he by his researches has proved the
plasticity of human races, this conclusion seems to me to carry further
than the facts in question will permit. It seems, on the contrary, to me
to be quite plain that it is the change from country life to city life
that has been the fact of real importance in the matter of the alterations
which the descendants of the immigrants have undergone, and not the
special American conditions. The point of weight must be sought in
those conditions which the changes from country life to city life carry
with them.” I have shown that selection is extremely unlikely to bring
about the results observed. That the essential causes may be the city
conditions is possible, but not proven. I have not ventured to claim
that I have discovered these causes. Besides, what would it help us if
we assign the phenomena to city life, since the manner of its influence is
as obscure as that of any other causes? I may quote here from my
“Abstract” (p. 52), which Mr. Backman reviews (also Final Report,
P- 75)- When speaking of the differences between urban and rural
types, noted by Ammon and Livi, I say: “Our American observations
show that there is also a direct influence at work” (in so far as the
differences occur also between parents and their own children, in which
case selection is highly improbable and mixture excluded). “Ammon's
observations are in accord with those on our American city-born central
Europeans; Livi's, with those on our American city-born Sicilians and
Neapolitans. Parallel observations made in rural districts and in various
climates in America, and others made in Europe, may solve the
problem whether the changes that we have observed here are only those
due to the change from rural life to urban life. From this point of view
the slight changes among the Scotch are also most easily intelligible because
among them there is no marked transition from one mode of life
to another, most of those measured having been city-dwellers and skilled
tradesmen in Scotland, and continuing the same life and occupations

As long, then, as we do not know the causes of the observed changes,
we must speak of a plasticity (as opposed to permanence) of types, including
71in the term changes brought about by any cause whatever — by
selection, by changes of prenatal or postnatal growth, or by changes in
the hereditary constitution, as Mr. Backman seems to do. In order to
avoid the impression of defining a particular course I have used expressly
the term “instability or plasticity of types” (Abstract, p. 53).

Professor R. S. Steinmetz 118 suggests that the observed changes may be
due to the elimination of degenerate types that develop under the unfavorable
European conditions and are, therefore, a reversion to the better
developed old types. I do not consider this likely, because the conditions
under which the immigrants live are not favorable; but this
suggestion is worth following up as one of the possible contributory

It has also been suggested 219 that the lowering of the head index may
be due to the increase in stature which occurs in America. I have myself
pointed out that the cephalic index tends to decrease with increasing
stature, because the correlation between all anteroposterior measurements
— in this case length of head and stature — is closer than the correlation
between these and transversal measurements. This relation,
however, occurs only in a group which has been treated as a statistical
unit. As soon as the groups are classified from distinct social or racial
points of view, it ceases. This question has been treated by E. Tschepourkowsky. 320
It is clear that the same relation cannot be expected between
stature and head measurements in a group which contains individuals
of only one selected stature, as in a group in which all statures
are increased owing to some cause that affects the whole group, and
which may affect other measurements in peculiar ways. Furthermore,
the absolute width of head of the Hebrews born in America decreases,
the length of head increases. Among the Italians the reverse is the case.

Professor Sergi criticizes my views from the standpoint that he considers
sudden changes in germ plasm in new surroundings impossible
and tries to reduce the phenomenon entirely to one of varying composition
of the series, that is, if we follow out his ideas, to a differing fertility
or mortality of component types of the immigrants. If his remarks,
as it may seem, should indicate that he considers brachycephalic, mesocephalic,
72and dolichocephalic individuals as distinct types, the criticisms
made before hold for his view also. His is an attempt to explain
the phenomena by natural selection, the success of which, as said before,
I consider as extremely doubtful. The particular form in which it is
presented by Professor Sergi is based on his method of analyzing the
somatological types constituting a people. I cannot consider this method
as fruitful, since the analysis which he demands is impossible. If we
establish a number of arbitrary types it is always possible to analyze a
series of observations accordingly, but this analysis does not prove the
correctness of our subjective classification and the existence of the selected
forms as types, but is due merely to the fact that the distribution
of observations can be made according to any fitting theory; but the correctness
or incorrectness of the theory can be proved only in exceptional

The greater the number of types that are to be segregated, the more
arbitrary becomes the method, and almost any analysis according to a
sufficient number of types can be made. There are, of course, distributions
that demand an analysis — like von Luschan's bi-modal curves of
Asia Minor, or my own for width of face of half-blood Indians, and
others — but there must be strong internal evidence of a compound
character, and even then the analysis will be arbitrary if the component
types are not known. This is perfectly evident if we realize that each
type must be defined by at least three constants — average, variability,
and relative frequency — so that for two component elements five constants
must be determined (one value of the relative frequencies being
determined by the relative frequency of the constituent series), for three
component elements eight, etc. The greater the number of constants
to be determined, the better can the theoretical and observed series be
made to coincide, regardless of the correctness of the theory which is
expressed by the constants.

I conclude from this that the claim that the change must be explained
by a different composition of the series of American-born is
inadmissible, because it is an entirely arbitrary solution of the problem.

I repeat that I have no solution to offer, that I have only stated the
results of my observations and considered the plausibilities of various
explanations that suggest themselves, none of which were found satisfactory.
Let us await further evidence before committing ourselves to
theories that cannot be proven.

Finally, a few words on the opinion that has been expressed or
73implied, that our observations destroy the whole value of anthropometry,
in particular that the study of the cephalic index has been shown to have
no importance. It seems to me, on the contrary, that our investigations,
like many other previous ones, have merely demonstrated that results
of great value can be obtained by anthropometrical studies, and that
the anthropometric method is a most important means of elucidating
the early history of mankind and the effect of social and geographical
environment upon man. The problem presented by the geographical
distribution of head forms — for instance, of the cephalic index — has
not been solved by our inquiry. All we have shown is that head forms
may undergo certain changes in course of time, without change of
descent. It seems to my mind that every result obtained by the use of
anthropometric methods should strengthen our confidence in the possibility
of putting them to good use for the advancement of anthropological

In regard to the question of the effect of cradling I have made a
study of Armenians living in New York. 121 One of the most striking
characteristics of the Armenian head form is the flatness of the occiput.
Von Luschan and others consider this one of the principal characteristics
of the type, while Chantre 222 assumed that the flatness was due
to deformation.

Inquiries among the Armenians living in New York showed that
according to their own opinion the plan-occipital form of the head is
due to the position of the child in the cradle. Formerly the child was
placed on a large diaper reaching up to the shoulders and covered
thickly with a white clay found in the mountains. The diaper was pulled
up between the legs and both ends folded firmly from right and left
over the body. Another cloth was placed over the diaper and folded
so as to press the arms firmly against the body. Then the child was
placed on its back in the cradle. The pillow was often filled with wool.
The child was kept permanently in this position. Immediately after
birth the midwife pressed the head of the new-born infant so as to give
it a round shape and compressed the nose from both sides. It does
not seem probable that these manipulations had a permanent effect.

The question whether artificial deformation affects the form of the
74head can be solved only by comparing the head forms of individuals
cradled in the old fashion with those who were not swaddled. The
Armenians living in America do not swaddle their children. In the
cities of the Orient, particularly among Armenians who are in close
relation to missions, the custom is also disappearing, so that among the
younger generation its influence is probably less than among the older

In order to settle this question I measured a fairly adequate number
of Armenians, partly born in Asia, partly in the United States or in
western Europe. These measurements show a considerable difference
between the two groups. Those born in the United States and western
Europe have longer heads than those born in Asia. The length of head
of those born in America exceeds by 6 mm. that of those born in Asia,
while the width of head is 4 mm. less.75

11 The following is the substance of “Changes in the Bodily Form of Descendants
of Immigrants” American Anthropologist, N. S., vol. 14, no. 3 (1912); and “Veränderungen
der Körperform der Nachkommen von Einwanderern in Amerika”
Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, vol. 45, Heft 1 (1913). These papers contain a summary
of the results of an investigation of the anthropometric characteristics of immigrants
and their descendants, a work entrusted to me by the United States Immigration
Commission. It is written as a reply to various criticisms of the results of the inquiry.
A partial report was asked for by the Commission and submitted to Congress on
December 16, 1909, and published about March, 1910. It was stated in the report
(p. 6) that the investigation was not complete. An abstract of the complete report
was submitted to Congress on December 3, 1910, and issued on March 17, 1911.
The final report was presented on December 5, 1910, by the Secretary of the Commission,
submitted to Congress on June 8, 1911, printed in September, 1911, and
issued in May, 1912. It was reprinted and published by the Columbia University
Press in New York in 1912.

22 Partial Report, pp. 7-16; Abstract, pp. 11-28; Final Report, pp. 55-56, and
tables, pp. 10-55.

31 Partial Report, pp. 17-22; Abstract, pp. 29-37; Final Report, pp. 57-64, 99-115.

41 Recalculated from Table 47, p. 127, Final Report.

51 Abstract, pp. 54-55; Final Report, pp. 76-78, 153-154 in regard to the
cephalic index.

62 Abstract, pp. 55-57; Final Report, pp. 78-79, 137-151.

73 Partial Report, p. 28; Abstract, p. 57; Final Report, pp. 79-80, 161-166.
It may be remarked here that this accounts for the apparent higher stature of first-born
children because the low values of late-born children occur only in large
families while first-born occur in all families. See “The Growth of First-Born Children,”
Science, N. S., vol. 1 (1895), p. 402.

81 Franz Boas, “Studies in Growth III,” Human Biology, vol. 7 (1935), pp.
313 et seq.

91 Partial Report, pp. 25-28; Abstract, pp. 38-43; Final Report, pp. 129 et seq.

101 Final Report, pp. 93-98.

112 Hans Fehlinger, Politisch-anthropologische Revue, vol. 10, no. 8 (Nov. 1911),
pp. 416-418; Giuseppe Sergi, “II preteso mutamento nelle forme fisiche dei discendenti
degl' immigrati in America,” Rivista Italiana di Sociologia, vol. 16 (1912),
pp. 16-24.

121 See Final Report, p. 56; Abstract, p. 28.

132 Loc. cit.; also C. Toldt, Korrespondenz-Blatt der deutschen Gesellschaft für
Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte
, vol. 43 (1912), p. 78.

141 Loc. cit., largely reprinted by Radosavljevich in Science (May 24, 1912), pp.

152 See p. 74.

163 Edinburgh Review, vol. 215 (1912), p. 374.

171 Xmer (1911), pp. 184-186.

181 “Het nieuwe Menschenras in Amerika,” Nederl. Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde,
(1911), pp. 342-352.

192 Elias Auerbach, Archiv für Rassen- und Gesellschafts-Biologie, vol. 9 (1912),
p. 608; Schiff, Korrespondenz-Blatt der deutschen Gesellschaft für Anthropologie,
Ethnologie und Urgeschichte
, vol. 43 (1912), p. 94.

203 Biometrika, vol. 4 (1905-6), pp. 286-312.

211 “Bemerkungen über die Anthropometrie der Armenier,” Zeitschrift für Ethnology,
vol. 56 (1924). Berlin, p. 74.

222 Ernest Chantre, “Mission scientifique en Transcaucasie, Asie Mineur et Syrie,”
Archives du Musée d'histoire naturelle de Lyon, vol. 6 (Lyon, 1895), p. 50.