Why the Dutch are so tall

It’s fairly common knowledge that the Dutch are some of the tallest people in the world. Whereas the average American man measures in at about 5’9″ (176 cm), the average Dutch man stands at well over 6′ (185 cm) tall. What is it about this small, traditionally seafaring nation that breeds such extraordinarily tall people? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not to keep their heads above water.

To provide a historical perspective, I charted the median male height for various countries between 1820 and 2013 below. It was surprisingly difficult to find this kind of height data, but fortunately many of these country’s militaries meticulously recorded the median height of their new conscripts every year. These records provide a convenient (albeit somewhat biased) sample of the young generation of men during the time period.

The raw data for this chart is available on figshare here. You’ll notice that there’s several holes in the data set, which I simply extrapolated the trends over. I compiled this data set from half a dozen different sources, so if you plan to use this data set for any of your research, I strongly suggest double-checking the sources I list there.


The most surprising revelation here is that the Dutch became the tallest Europeans only recently in the 1980s. Before then, they were one of the shortest people in Europe at only 5’5″ (165 cm) for first half of the 19th century. What changed after 1850 that led to this explosive Dutch growth? Prof. Drukker at the University of Groningen suggests that it has a lot to do with the distribution of wealth. As Cecily Layzell writes:

The Dutch growth spurt of the mid-19th century coincided with the establishment of the first liberal democracy. Before this time, [The Netherlands] had grown rich off its colonies but the wealth had stayed in the hands of the elite. After this time, the wealth began to trickle down to all levels of society, the average income went up and so did the height.

This explanation makes intuitive sense: It’s well-known that we’re much taller than our ancestors 100 years ago because of improved nutrition, especially in our adolescent years. If the average citizen has more money to buy healthy food, then we would expect their children to grow bigger, stronger, and taller. To add more evidence to the pile: GapMinder clearly shows that the Dutch income per capita stagnated until the mid-late 19th century, right when the Dutch median height started rising as well.


So, there we have it. Make sure all of our citizens are wealthy enough to buy healthy food and their children will grow up to be bigger, stronger, and healthier. It’s not as fun an answer as we would’ve hoped for, but at least we can put this “head above water” theory to rest!

Edit (6/29/2014): Several of my readers have rightly pointed out that although this data explains why many Europeans have grown taller in the past 150 years, it doesn’t necessarily explain why the Dutch are so much taller than the rest of Europe. There are a couple possibilities that merit further investigation:

  • The Dutch diet: The average Dutch citizen eats a lot of breads, meats, cheese, and drinks a lot of milk — moreso than many of their European counterparts.
  • The Dutch genes: It’s fairly well-known that pre-civilization humans were much taller than their civilized counterparts. It’s possible that the Dutch ancestors from thousands of years ago were always taller, but Dutch diet and nutrition limited how large they grew. That still leaves open the question of why the Dutch ancestors were taller than the rest, however.

Dr. Randy Olson is the Lead Data Scientist at Life Epigenetics, Inc., where he is bringing advanced data science and machine learning technology to the life insurance industry.

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146 comments on “Why the Dutch are so tall
  1. Martin says:

    Hi Randy,

    Nice blog idea again…I was just showing this to a dutch colleague actually. A few comments on your interpretation of the data…

    * with the US, diet may well be an issue but what about the population change? There has presumably been quite an influx into the population from potentially shorter nations?

    * Generally, on the data bias. At some point in many militaries there was a minimum height for people allowed to join the army. This was lifted more recently, I would expect this might have an impact here.

    * And as my friend pointed out it works the other way to with the Dutch military rejecting people that were too tall!

    Anyway keep up the great blogs.

    • Randy Olson says:

      Thanks Martin!

      with the US, diet may well be an issue but what about the population change? There has presumably been quite an influx into the population from potentially shorter nations?

      I think that explains the U.S. height dipping down so much in the mid-late 19th century. Maybe the growth of Mexican Americans in the past couple decades (as Jens suggests below), who are much shorter than Americans on average, explains the recent decline in American height as well.

      Generally, on the data bias. At some point in many militaries there was a minimum height for people allowed to join the army. This was lifted more recently, I would expect this might have an impact here.

      And as my friend pointed out it works the other way to with the Dutch military rejecting people that were too tall!

      That’s quite possible, and important to keep in mind that these older data sets can be somewhat biased when we think about sampling. Although, one might expect that the height requirements would rise with the median population height, so the variables could be intermingled. I’ll also note that most of the data from 1950 onwards isn’t military records, but actual random samples of the male populations.

  2. jens says:

    For the USA another big consideration is the heavy influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants, who on average are much shorter than the USA’s white population. For example, Mexican males average about 5’5″ tall and their percentage of the overall US population has grown from only 3% a decade ago to over 7% today.

    • Randy Olson says:

      Great point! I had forgotten about that. There definitely has been a significant growth of Mexican Americans, and they aren’t known for being very tall. 🙂

      • Wolf Baginski says:

        There’s probably data becoming available to check this. I wouldn’t be surprised if the children of immigrants were catching up with the general population. It’s likely a good test for the relative effects of genes and diet. Anecdotal only, but my parents did their growing up in the Great Depression, and my mother trained as a nursery nurse, so it doesn’t surprise me that my brother and I were taller. Better diet fits.

    • Joey Scarbourough says:

      I also am curious to why US heights are much lower, but statistically the influx of shorter ethnic peoples doesn’t account for the drastic drop in average American male height. If you notice, the decline starts mid 70s just about a generation after heavily processed foods hit the States and then a continued poor quality of food due to GM foods. This can be supported by the increase in people with digestive disorders over the past few decades and the rate of increasing obesity also due to adulterated foods in the US diet.

      • Carlos Ortega says:

        Mid 70’s the median income started to decrease for americans. It has to do more with a middle class with less income and a higher lower class.

    • Onholyservicebound says:

      Except, the USA measures White, Black, and Hispanic American height separately, and the decrease is seen in those populations as well.

  3. Jules says:

    Where’d you get the idea that Dutch men are over 6′ on average?

    The average Dutch man is about 1,81 (a bit under 6′), not 1,85 or more.

  4. Sander says:

    I think that average will rise in the next years. I’m 6’4 and most of the time deffinatly not the tallest. Especially among the youngsters 6’7 is not very special anymore.. (Yes, I’m Dutch)

  5. Bogdan says:

    I don’t see that correlation necessarily as the explanation for the height of Dutch people. And having lived there, I can testify, they’re not the healthiest people. Most of the food in restaurants is horrid, while the one in the supermarkets is mostly filled with sugar, simple carbs or fat dressings/sauces, making it very heavy. A higher revenue doesn’t mean healthier people… look at the Gulf states.

    I’d say their height is due to the high consumption of milk. I believe they have the highest count of cattle per capita worldwide. You might want to look into this.

    • Emma says:

      I agree, the general dutch diet is not the best. Everything is either deep fried, covered in lard, made of sugar, or all three. Also, they think aniseed is the bee knees for some reason.

      • Susan says:

        That’s just bogus, Emma. We Dutch people do eat a lot of whole weat bread, cheese, milk and potatoes, but deep fried stuff, lard and sugar are not common practice. And aniseed is not a popular spice at all here.

  6. Rhett Talley says:

    Hi Randy:

    Lot’s of proximate cause it seems, but I’d be interested to test some evolutionarily informed sexual selection theory here. Runaway selection by Dutch women for taller Dutch men…?

    • Randy Olson says:

      Hi Rhett, given that the burst of height happened only in the past ~150 years, I see it as unlikely that evolution played a significant role here. There simply haven’t been enough generations (~4-5), even if only the tallest Dutch men and women reproduced for the past 150 years.

  7. Michael Garrison says:

    But income equality in the Netherlands has decreased since 1980 as measured by the Gini coefficients of OECD. Additionally, there are 12 OECD countries with lesser GC’s (lower inequality) than the Netherlands. Data is from OECD.

    The increase in height is more likely related to increases in GDP per capita combined with a homogenous population (very few immigrants from poor countries, where growth is stunted).

  8. Wen Zhiming says:

    What if the reason behind height increase(except American) does not actually relate to wealth or nutrition? (maybe not just these two factors alone)

    In my opinion, height represents individual’s strength. If human population generally prefers higher mates, gene of the heights will be delivered through their offspring. Hence, the generation to come will be higher than their ancestors.

    I suggest you to find more evidences to support your hypothesis, however, this is a very good blog indeed. I came here for the first time.

    • Stacy says:

      Height does not represent strength (or evolutionary fitness, if that’s what you mean). Height is about 60% genetic and 40% diet (or some combination thereof). Each (average, non pathological) individual has a maximum and minimum height that can attain; with a protein-rich diet they will achieve the maximum and if undernourished will tend towards the minimum. This has been confirmed through numerous scientific studies. (I’m a bioarchaeologist studying human bone growth.)

  9. David Treumann says:

    You cite Cecily Layzell with the following tidbit: “After this time, the wealth began to trickle down to all levels of society, the average income went up and so did the height.”

    If overall income of society stays the same, the average shouldn’t change at all when the distribution of said income changes. However, the median income should increase if the income is distributed more evenly ceteris paribus.

  10. Sam says:

    Nutrition and genes both clearly affect height. What we don’t really know is the balance between the two. This is true at both the individual and societal level. The dramatic change in height in many countries coinciding with an increase in nutrition makes the case for the importance of nutrition pretty irrefutable. The importance of nutrition in average height has generally been under-appreciated until recently. It’s also logically true. No animal can grow without food. The case for genes is equally obvious.

    Are Mexicans shorter than Americans because of genes or nutrition? Hard to say.

  11. FasterDax says:

    Interesting outsider observation. The Dutch, well I’m an expat, seem to have two competing theories. On analyzing the diets of similarly tall countries like Sweden and Denmark some argue that:
    1) generous use of wholemeal products in the diet. Q10, fibre and all that…
    2) widespread consumption of milk and milkproduct by lactose positive human. It is thought that the eustrogen in milk stimulates growth.

    Good luck with your research

  12. CaptainObvious says:

    Oldest lesson in the book: Correlation does not imply causation. You should be much more mindful of the causal inferences you are making and the words you use to present your data.

    • JoeMcknow says:

      Correlation doesn’t imply causation?! Just kidding, but I am surprised more people don’t understand this. Oh well happy teachings. The oldest lessons often correlate to be the most valuable. 🙂

    • Randy Olson says:

      Yes, correlation doesn’t imply causation, but there’s clearly a pretty strong story here. Maybe it doesn’t explain everything, but it’s valuable to identify (and put data behind) possible explanations.

  13. Rick says:

    Americans are getting shorter due to immigration. Immigration from nations where people are shorter (china, india, middle east, central america) pushes the average down.

    With the European Union and mandatory immigration rules, you will see europeans getting shorter too as their nations get flooded with 3rd world immigrants.

  14. Kyle Nolan says:

    While I don’t have any hard evidence, I’m willing to argue that the reason for such great height among the Dutch can’t simply be reduced to nutrition. My reasons are, admittedly, purely anecdotal. During college I lived in West Michigan, where a great number of Dutch immigrants to the US moved. By and large the Dutch-descended men there are much taller than everyone else. 6′ 4″ was normal, while several people I know there are much taller. Could it be a combination of the nutrition with a particular set of genes? (I’m completely ignorant of the finer points of genetics).

    • Bongo says:

      I read somewhere recently that genes for ‘shortness’ are dominant. Does anyone know if this is the case, as one inference that might be drawn from this data (diet aside) is that ‘tall’ genes are dominant?

  15. Carlota M says:

    It’s an interesting and logical theory, but perhaps it would also be of interest to compare the Netherlands’ evolution of the distribution of wealth to those of the other countries, to try to find reasons for the still visible differences in average height, especially among northern countries (Sweden, adding the United Kingdom and Norway, for example).

  16. Aki says:

    In general I would also take along historical factor of longer timeline, as back in the Roman sources (I guess first being Julius Caesar in his Gallic wars and or Tacitus in Germania in the first Centuries BCE and CE), the tribe of Batavians and some others (in present day Dutch area roughly) is quoted to consist of exceptionally tall individuals.

    So there may be a a very ancient selection of tall people that just were put down in size when they were poor and had low-protein diet until Mid-19th Century.

    There also Saxon sources from Middle Ages that claim Bohemians exceptionally tall and that probably relates to their relatively higher living standard back in the Middle Ages.

    Otherwise to my knowledge average height of native Dutch (discarding immigrants) is indeed quite a lot, followed by the Flemish inhabitants of Belgium and Scandinavians. Finns lag somewhat behind the rest of Nordic nations but that is largely due to very much lower average height in Northern parts of the country. Estonians are quite tall as well, but I am not trying to dig out any statistics now. Britons again have considerable amount of shorter population, probably mostly representing lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

  17. Jeff Morris says:

    I don’t know — improved nutrition explains the overall increase across all the countries, but how does it explain the sudden change in the slope of the increase in the Netherlands after 1960? And how does it explain the striking decrease in US since 1980? There’s obviously a racial/genetic component to height — there’s a pretty obvious correlation between the “Nordicness” of a nation in this plot and average height. My guess is that these trends are somehow related to immigration or some other shift in the demographics of these countries.

  18. Keesje says:

    The same could be said of most western countries. I think there is something to be said of what kind of food the extra wealth was and is spent on – a much greater proportion of milk and dairy products than other European countries.

  19. Brett says:

    Does the US’ decrease correlate with increased income inequality? Or the abolition of the draft, resulting in a different data set?

  20. Sarah says:

    Nice article, quite enjoyed it. I’m not sure I’m convinced, however. Have you possibly looked at the usage of growth hormone in the cattle/other animals in these places during those times? I would think that has a greater chance of affecting height than wealth. So yes, nutrition, but more likely from this perspective.

    • Randy Olson says:

      If I remember right, growth hormones weren’t used widely in cows until the late 20th century. Dutch height has actually somewhat stagnated since the 1980s, so whatever was causing them to grow seems to have reached its cap.

  21. Sarah says:

    An annecdote (not the same as data, but perhaps interesting).

    You mentioned that some (most?) of your data comes from military enlistment records. If this reliance changed over the years, (i.e. moving to more public data on driver’s licenses for example) there would be an impact.

    Through the Canadian War Museum my family has accessed the enlistment records of my great grand father (5’7″, 32″ chest girth, aparent age 18) … however he lied about his age and was only 16 at the time. He was over 6′ tall as an adult (as are all of his sons, grandsons, and great grandsons that I know of)

    Furthermore, depending on the age of enlistment (17, 18, 21 … ) some people have not quite reached their full height. (or if my brothers are an example, they grow a bit or loose the cool “teen slouch” after 18.

  22. Niall Campbell says:

    The biggest factor in the growth spurt in the latter half of the 20th century is all to do with diet.

    While most countries banned the use of growth hormones being fed to livestock entering the human food chain, the Dutch persisted with it, accounting for the prevalence off tall men, and women, now seen. If the data is reviewed in 20 to 30 years time, you will find average height will normalise

    • Jordie says:

      Hi Niall – so interesting, I’ve been looking into this for a little while and I didn’t realise this piece of the puzzle!

      Are you able to point me towards any info on this? I haven’t been able to find it.

    • gasman66 says:

      Yet I have Dutch lineage, am 191cm tall but was born & bred in New Zealand – so not exposed to growth hormone.

    • Tinus says:

      This is an opinion that’s not at all based on facts. Until 1980, the use of growth hormones, both endogenous and exogenous,
      was completely prohibited in Italy, Denmark, the
      Netherlands, and Greece. The use of growth hormones was particularly common in the U.K., where beef production was heavily industrialized.

      The scientific evidence for health risks associated with the use of
      growth hormones in meat production was, at best, scant. However,
      consumer lobbyist groups were far more able to successfully influence
      the European Parliament to enact regulations in the 1980s than producer lobbyist groups were,
      and had far more influence over public perceptions. This is in contrast
      with the US at the time, where there was little interest from consumer
      organizations in the subject prior to the 1980s, and regulations were
      driven by a well-organized coalition of export-oriented industry and
      farming interests, who were only opposed by traditional farming groups.

      The EU even went so far as to completely ban import of US beef.

      So why aren’t Americans taller?

      • tentantoes says:

        Illegal immigrants

        • bear48624862 says:

          I’m sure immigrants have an effect on average height, because when I see white Americans in middle class and upper class neighborhoods in big cities, they are usually very tall. Meanwhile, immigrants shop at completely different supermarkets and don’t generally have access or education to diet the same way white Americans do.

          • tentantoes says:

            I live in Naples, Fl. And for over 17 years. Believe me, they shop anywhere the rest of us do. Many with SNAP CARDS. Baskcarts overflowing.
            It’s genetic…most are MUCH shorter than my 172.
            Point is, if THEIR height is averaged in, severely lowers the U.S. average.

            • Onholyservicebound says:

              Your anecdotes don’t change fact, poverty stricken nations have been consistently shorter throughout all of history. Especially those with high wealth inequality. Normalized health care, diet, and wealth has increased height by up to half a foot in many nations.
              There’s some limit obviously, in very distinct populations like pgymies, but for the most part, the larger height disparities are a result of national prosperity.

    • Frank Joosten says:

      That’s BS, growth hormones have been illegal since 1961 in the Netherlands.

  23. Mira says:

    Interesting correlation between wealth, access to better foods and height observed here.

    However, with nations interacting more freely with each other creating more and more “mixed races”, we may not attain the huge heights that would otherwise be possible if the tallest people had kids together.

    Now, how can we explain the heights of some African tribes who do not have access to the foods we have in America or Europe, if not by genetics?


    Interesting fact though; many of those tribes depend on cattle and goat (milk) for nutrition…!

  24. Elaine Spencer says:

    You say people but you are only measuring men. You left out half the population.

  25. You also have VERY different set sizes and selection criteria for those sets. The entrance requirements for the US military are different for the Royal Dutch Military. The US military has 2.2 million active and reserve. The Royal Netherlands Army has 21,000 active and reserve. Any sampling system with that much disparity between set sizes has to use something to take that into account (there are numerous algorithms from environmental sciences for taking set size disparity into account).

    • Randy Olson says:

      In many of these countries in the time period shown, military service was compulsory for men at the age of 18. Hence why these military records make for a great sample of the population over the years.

  26. Angela says:

    My father in law is part of a very large dutch family who immigrated to Canada as children 60 years ago. The younger siblings in their family are much taller than the older and we have always assumed it was because their nutrition was much better in Canada. Interesting this article finds the same thing.

  27. Alberto says:

    Hi Randal,
    thanks for this interesting comparison.
    I’ve a question:
    where you collect data from Italy?

    Since 9 years there is not a compulsory military service so it is impossible to have data on a population level.
    I think that use the data from military service may be biased caused to socio-economical auto selection (naturally where you have not compulsory military service).

    Great work

    • Randy Olson says:

      The Italian military records only go up to the mid-20th century. The last data point in ~2013 is population-level data from http://www.AverageHeight.co.

      • Alberto says:

        I read the web page that you link but I don’t find their source of data.
        In Italy there is not a system of data collection about physical data.
        In the past years this kind of information are collected during military evaluation but nowadays it is not so.
        I can be wrong but I’m quite sure that actually don’t exist a population level collection of data.

  28. nelson says:

    An interesting point is to look at the South African Dutch dependents, who were separated from the Dutch population 100’s of years ago, but are also a tall nation. There has been a mixing of genes between French, Southern African and English over the centuries but the Afrikaans nation are a tall bunch, just look at the size of the rugby players they produce. It might make an interesting area of research.

    • IAintNoPushOver says:

      Good point bringing up the Afrikaners. They are not only tall, but a lot of them are very broad, whereas I don’t find the Dutch to generally be broad. Of course as you point out, the Afrikaners are of mixed heritage–Dutch, Flemmish, French Huguenot, German, Khoikhoi, and even a bit of Portuguese, Italian, English, Black African, and Jewish mixed in.

  29. elise says:

    I once heard that the reason is the Dutch Household-schools, where the Dutch girls that were not clever enough for higher education went to learn housewife skills. That also included preparing simple healthy meals for little money.

  30. Food intake is one thing, how people use that energy is another; It would be intriguing – but maybe not surprising – if it turned out that their use of bicycles as local transport was a factor.


  31. Cate says:

    Nutrition good or bad doesn’t just affect the current generation being studied. Women who are pregnant with a baby girl and suffer from very poor nutrition effect the height of their grandchildren. Perhaps looking to data of famine in the Netherlands prior to 1825 might give a clue to why they could be genetically taller yet among the shortest Europeans of that era and beyond. This was first observed in subsequent generations after the Dutch famine of WW II. I do agree however that the Dutch reluctance toward immigration from poorer countries may be the biggest part of this puzzle.

  32. Fernando says:

    Hi! Some years ago I read somewhere (The New Yorker?) a related piece. They said the median height had been falling since the middle ages until the 19th century due to increasing urbanization and lack of effective medical treatment: more people in confined space (cities and towns) + poor sanitation + no vaccines + no medication = more diseases => impaired growth. Since the 19th century medicine improved a lot. That made it possible to have a healthier life in high density areas.
    The Netherlands is (and I think it has always been) a densely populated area. It’s also boggy, which probably made for poor sanitary conditions. That, and poor economic conditions, could explain why they were so small. The advancements in medicine since the 19th century, plus improved economy, levied those barriers from the Dutch, and they grew and grew since then…

  33. Tanya Lott says:

    This has been an interesting read. There is one thing that doesn’t line up to me. My family is Dutch, and among my brothers (6’4 and up), and my 15 male cousins whom are all certainly tall, none below 6’1, several being 6’7, and even 6’10”, we are all born and raised in Canada. So, how would the economics in Holland explain our families height? Yet our Holland born grandparents were average height? Lead me to think it’s genetics. Yet why the height burst, I’m not sure!

    • Franca says:

      That’s interesting about your family, but maybe the diet theory still applies. In the time of WW2 and likely WW1, there was probably inadequate nutrition around in Holland for most people compared to what you and your brothers had in Canada, so even though you experienced your better diet there, maybe it was still a better diet than what your grandparents had in Holland.

    • Nikki Palesh says:

      I”m American but have a Dutch great, great grandfather that made everyone in that family taller. My grandmother was born in 1924 and was 5’7. Pretty tall for a girl. I’m 5’9 and I owe it to the Mahrtyn side of the family because the women in my other grandparent’s families are closer to munchkins.

    • Kayli Baraniecki says:

      Hi Tanya, send a brother or cousin my way please 🙂

      • Ahmed says:

        191 cm is it good for you!

      • EdWhoKnowsBest. says:

        Kayli: How about a “brother” of 11.6 (Oh, yeah) …inches? This should be enough for you. He will have you writhing, snapping and thrashing in the most ecstatic continuous concupiscent encounter ever.

  34. Grietje Eleveld says:

    Since my ancestry is 100% dutch this was an interesting article. The thought came to mind, that apart from their healthy eating habits, the topography of the Netherlands is very flat. Could it be that the growth of the Dutch has not been hampered by physical stress as much as those living in mountainous countries with rough terrain? Just a thought.

    • David Robbert de Ruiter says:

      Living in constant war with the water, the people of the Netherlands were known in the ancient world as having the faces of horror. Being portayed as a people living in the swamps of what the Greeks called the place where you take the farry to Hades, what we now call Hell. The Romans said they could not have found a more poorly livable situation. The Romans could not understand why these people did not want to be part of the Roman Empire but rather be ‘free’ in their constant war with the water. The Romans were also afraid to go trough the ancient swamps that recided in the Netherlands before we started making dikes and redraining the swamps. The swamps struck horror in the hearts of the Roman legions. Having a hellish nature they stated.

  35. Jaime says:

    This is an interesting idea for a blog post. It’s a shame there isn’t more robust data available upon which to develop your figure for of median male height over the last 200 years in various European countries. Is there nothing more reliable if you look through the bioarchaeology and physical anthropology literature?

    I’m surprised no-one has mentioned the Dutch Winter Hunger of 1944, and subsequent studies, which has been shown to have had an epigenetic effect on birth weight and other indicators of health for two generations proceeding the famine (see Painter et al., 2008). Maybe the impact of the famine concurs with your data of the Dutch not becoming taller that the rest of Europe until 1975? Then again, maybe it doesn’t; the first and second generation of low-birth weight babies are probably those who were reaching military enlistment age in 1975 onwards.

    I would be very careful about asserting whether the data for your figure is correct. As Aki rightly points out, there are historical documents which comment on the Dutch seafarers being notably taller than men of other nationalities. Indeed, analysis of skeletal remains of some of the massacre victims from the shipwreck of the Batavia in 1629 demonstrates these Dutchmen of nearly 400 years ago stood above 6 foot (185cm) (Edwards, 1966; Hunneybun, 1995; Franklin, 2001).

  36. Winston says:

    I grew up in the Dutch immigrant community in Canada (my parents both immigrated as children in the early 1950s; I was born in 1970) and as a 6’1″ male, I was not especially tall compared to my peers (who were all, like me, children of immigrants and not immigrants themselves).

  37. Rob Stowell says:

    It’s an attractive hypothesis. But if it was just about diet, there should be a fairly severe dip in the 40s. Not just widespread hardship during the war, but very serious food shortage and starvation in ’44/45.
    Odd that that didn’t even amount to a blip?

  38. babar says:

    I was wondering how tall Africans will be if their nutrition is Improved and wealth stays there and not stolen by Europeans n Americans 😉
    Just kidding
    BTW has someone checked if japs and Chinese have also grown taller???

    • Raquel Seriv says:

      Edgy… how exactly does Europe and the US steal wealth from Africa?
      Just kidding

    • John 01 says:

      THIS IS A TABLE SHOWING THE GROWTH SPURT OF JAPAN http://nbakki.hatenablog.com/entry/2014/05/30/173407

    • Allen Thrasher says:

      I m 6’2 1/2″. In 1963 I made a bus tour of Japan with my father. Frankly, the Japanese seemed like dwarfs. This was in May, which is high school tour time. The students regularly mobbed me seeking my autograph and delaying the bus. In 1970 I returned to Japan and that younger generation had shot up so much they did not strike me as short. Of course the older generations had been very deprived in the war and the beginning of the occupation. But historically the Chinese regarded the Japanese as short. I wonder if the Chinese were helped by their willingness to eat almost anything except dairy products.

    • tentantoes says:

      Have you not heard of both the Pygmies and Watusis???
      Genetics can’t be overruled by diet.

  39. Rich Warren says:

    This is interesting stuff.

    I’ve always felt there was a nutrition/economic reason behind the height of myself and my siblings. A classic post WWII family in Glasgow with birth years of 1946, 1952, 1955, 1960 and corresponding height (cm) of 150, 168, 175, 185. In 1966 the three youngest emigrated to Canada; a nutritional nirvana compared to Scotland. My Mother told me that for her the post war rationing years (1946-50)were worse than the war years.

    It’s hard to know the what contributed more; nutrition or the upgrade in economic status combined with better medical/dental care.

    My wife, a first generation Canadian of Dutch parents (dairy farmers) pointed out that her Mother’s very large family showed the opposite trend. The older children born in the 1920’s were tall, including the girls. Several boys were 200+cm. The younger children born in the 1930’s to early 40’s were smaller.

  40. Oskar Nowak says:

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  41. bob ama says:

    and what if there is a minimum entry requirement for military service?

    • Patrick Andries says:

      Answered earlier. They first measure you, record your name and height, then reject you if you don’t fit the height requirement, but all young men were supposed to be measured (at least in the XXth Century).

      I think the old measurements (in the XIXth Century) are more suspect since you could buy a proxy to do your military service in your name. Who would do that? Rich people. Who would be measured? The poor people, usually shorter. I don’t think the rich people had to do the medical exam, the system was often based on random draws, when your number was drawn you had to go to the military, but you could send someone else with your number.

  42. Gershom says:

    I partly agree with the comments above: the average height of the largest immigrant populations is likely to have a measurable effect on the average height of the total population. The same would be true in the USA and in the Netherlands. A brief search of the available statistics reveals that the largest influx of immigrants in the Netherlands comes from the EU, predominantly from Belgium and Germany, which have very tall (sub-)populations. This isn’t necessarily reflected in the statistics on “average” height, for obvious reasons, but there are regions of Germany where I feel very small with my 5’11”.

    Genetics likely also play a role. Apparently the “Frisians”, who are endemic to the coastal regions of northern Europe, make up one of the largest indigenous ethnic populations in the Netherlands. There’s also a substantial population of Frisians in Belgium, and in Germany, where they are well-known for their height (anecdotally, I have personally never met a Frisian, male or female, who was shorter than 6′, and I’ve met a lot of Frisians here in Berlin).

    It’s reasonable to assume that the difference in average height in the US and the Netherlands is best explained by the triumvirate of genetics, immigration, and health/nutrition, and not by any one factor alone. The influx of immigrants from Central and South America and from Southeast Asia to the USA might explain part of the dip, but I think the unequal distribution of resources and the lack (until recently) of universal health care are, at a minimum, exacerbating factors. Nevertheless, a higher-resolution view is needed before we can come to any concrete conclusions.

    By the way, great presentation of the data. Clean and simple.

  43. Person says:

    GDP/capita is not a measure of wealth distribution- it only divides the goods created domestically by the number of people. If one person kept the windfalls of all the GDP creation or everyone shared the windfall, GDP/capita would still be the same. The metric you re looking for that there are not likely records for is the Gini coefficient.

  44. Dr Marco Langbroek says:

    The moment the Dutch growth evens off in your diagram, coincides with the moment military conscription was ended in the Netherlands (1997). So I suggest that is an artefact of a switch to another data source. Dutch conscription had both a minimum and maximum height requirement, by the way.

    • Patrick Andries says:

      « Dutch conscription had both a minimum and maximum height requirement, by the way.»

      To be admitted, but not necessarily to pass the medical exam… If the measurement precedes the admittance to the ranks, than there is no bias in that part.

  45. edward koopman says:

    My brothers, sister and I are all born in Canada to immigrant parents who came to Canada in the late 1940’s, after the war. We are all taller than our parents are, and some of our children are even taller than we are. we first generation children are mostly over 6 feet tall, and some of our children are 6 ft-3″ tall.

    Is there an explanation to this?

  46. The production of peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes in the Netherlands is practically the same as the whole of Spain. Dutch vegetables can be found in all Northern European supermarkets. How can they grow so much despite being such a small country?

    Fertilizers is the answer. The astronomical use of fertilizers in the middle of the 20th century before their use became regulated, is the answer. Even growing vegetables without soil, just feeding them the chemical nutrients.

    The Dutch are Germanic people. There’s no reason for them to be much taller than Germans.

    • Patrick Andries says:

      “Germanic ” is a linguistic concept. Southern Germans may have a lot of Celtic and Alpine genes (shorter) and less Baltic ones (taller).

  47. Victoria says:

    With the Dutch diet are they living longer as well?

  48. Tony Rosier says:

    When I worked in Holland they told me it was due to the growth hormone used to fatten the animals in the 1960s

    • Tinus says:

      That’s a myth that has been debunked several times. It also doesn’t explain why my kids are so tall, two generations later.

    • tentantoes says:

      Interesting. I grew up eating only home grazed & natural grain fed beef. My parents each time followed their cattle thru slaughterhouses to be positive they got THEIR carefully fed beef. Seriously.
      I never ate at McDonald’s, etc while my sister was the Big Mac-aholic. She developed early and overly in one way. But topped at 6″ shorter than me.
      Beats me.

  49. jess says:

    The answer for why they’re taller than Americans is pretty straight forward. America was once dominantly Northwest european British groups, Germans, Dutch, Scandinavians etc all countries known to have some of the tallest people. As America started receiving immigrants from all over Southern Europe, Eastern European East Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America as well as the Middle East. Height began to shrink. Today Mestizos and Asians who have small averages together make up a pretty good percentage of Americans. Ofcourse Northwestern European nations who are still quite Northwestern European would be taller than a melting pot like America.

    • GulliverFredrich says:

      No none of those Scandinavian and Germanic groups were known for being tall originally; it’s recently because of genetically modified food, growth hormones and changing nutrition that there was a change in height; which the same is happening in Asians countries TODAY so to speak. And yes those regions and place had TALL people in antiquity and various different times, sometimes taller then people from Europe but due to times things change. Also the Dutch were known as some of the shortest people in Europe in the past, so I doubt that is the case for Americans……..

  50. Bozzy Lewis says:

    It is true that Europeans have gotten noticeably taller in the last 3 generations. I am third generation Italian-American and my grandparents were born in Southern Island and Sicily. In the 1960’s Italian men were very short at around 5’5” to 5’8” on average. The women were even shorter and barely reached 5′ tall.My grandfather, father and all my uncles were in this range and I am only 5’4”. When I went to Italy for the first time in 2011, I noticed all my father’s first cousins were short like this, but their sons were all 5’10”, 5’11” and 6′. It must have something to do with better nutrition, longer life-spans, and good healthcare and not only genetic. Today, the young people look virtually identical to us Americans. The same clothes, hairstyles, the people are attractive, slender and taller ! This was not true only one generation ago. In the 1970’s you could easily identify a European by their attire, hair-styles and evil facial expressions and that “foreign” look. This gap seems to have disappeared in the present day global world of cell phones, laptops, e-mail, facebook, twitter and so on !

  51. andy says:

    just a thought: the dutch started using a type of salt in their bread containing (higher levels) iodine (believe 1920´s). Woud this effect the growth if the dutch eat lots of bread?

    • yogaFlo says:

      My father was a Dutch baker. Our whole family was born in The Netherlands. We’re all average height.

  52. James Brown says:

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  53. AwC says:

    I don’t believe it has to do with Dutch wealth and the food they eat. It’s simply a matter of heredity. Tall Dutch men marry tall Dutch women. A person can’t eat themselves tall, It’s all in the genes..

    • yogaFlo says:

      Yes, people eat themselves tall.

      Here in Vancouver, there are hundreds of thousands or orientals and South Asians. Many of the young women are very tall and big, unlike just a generation ago. Many are overweight too. Their diet has definitely changed from their traditional Chinese, or Indian diet to a Canadian diet – high carbs, bad fats (fast and processed food).

  54. Boris Denisov says:

    Are there any data on dispersion?
    Is it growing or reducing?

  55. Daniel says:

    Has anyone looked on sexual selection within dutch culture with this aspect in mind?
    I mean since the difference with mainly the same food and gene pool as in Belgium, Denmark and Holland and all. The difference in food quality in population segments has been equalized since enough generations you might think since this aspect is fairly insensitive to how long it’s ben the case. I.e, if the parent generation has good access to food it will help you somewhat but in the case of grandparents it bare little meaning. Most important is that the person himself has that access to “maximize” his genetic potential for height. So within two generations of a well fed population the genetics should act the same in all countries.
    That made me think about sexual se,lection as a factor.
    Is it for instance a “fact” within the culture that men are better tall. There are after all many exemples around the world where such aspects has had a big impact on the characteristics of the group.
    Up here in scandinavia we have our blondes, they are elsewhere as well but they all stem from a pretty close in time mutation that bore no meaning to the persons chance to survive, but men LOVED it apparently. Especially those ending up up here. There are many other exemples, I just like that one. hehe.

    • Daniel says:

      Sorry for the bad writing, I see a couple of scentences that need editing. Not possible though. :/

  56. David Jongejans says:

    the Dutch ancestors are Nordic , German and Celtic the Nordic Group
    Named by the Romans Frissii they where found in North part of the Netherlands i think this also plays a part

  57. gasman66 says:

    This is (possibly) nonsense. An association does not prove cause and effect. Just because on some level the association between wealth/nutrition and height makes a degree of intuitive sense does not mean the relationship is in any way causal.

  58. dennis tiamfook says:

    good healthly body win all, tall ,short ,fat ,thin ,as long your body is healthly be happy…too much choices kill as kill the good life. i have seen short cripple men have the wife happy,and tall men as the wife crying like a baby

  59. Mark says:

    Genetics play a very big role. Dutch people (and other people from Northwest Europe) are descendants of the Germanic tribes that lived there. The Germanic people were known to be very tall, although they were uncivilized compared to the Romans and didn’t have a very diverse diet. They ate a lot of bread and meat and drank beer and milk. Yet, they grew very tall compared to the Romans, who had a much healthier lifestyle.

    Of course nutrition plays a role, but if you don’t have the genetic potential to grow tall, then it won’t have much effect.

    • GulliverFredrich says:

      No the Germanic tribes were not known for being very tall, the Dutch used to be very short people as well as various “Germanic peoples”; it’s only because of growth hormones being shoved down theirs foods and various other food/nutrition changes that led to these growth spurts in height. The same is being observed in countries like Korea and other Asian countries today….

    • GulliverFredrich2 says:

      The Germanic people weren’t tall, stop lying; the Dutch used to be the shortest people in Europe. The average height in ancient and medieval times were different then it is today. Also by the time the Germanic migration period started happening, the Greco-Roman world’s was nearing collapse and disintegration, and plagues/droughts had already devastated them as a civilization; thus food and nutrition distribution was not nearly as equal as during prime peak periods (Punic wars era etc)……

      • bear48624862 says:

        Germanic people were tall, if you read the writings of roman historians and emperors, they often described Celtic and German people as taller than the average Roman.

    • tentantoes says:

      Beg to differ….Germanic people not tall. Frissian intermingled, perhaps.

  60. Bond Summers says:

    Seems to me Euro-Americans on average have been maturing to smaller heights over the past few decades. I’m born and raised in San Diego, CA

  61. What if all the Dutch manlets were conscripted and died at war leaving only the tallest to reproduce?

    t. 6’4″ dutch male

  62. Kelly Taylor says:

    What about Dutch heritage Americans? Measure them and see if they compare to the dutch in the Netherlands. If it followed across the pond, maybe it is more to do with genetics. I am a mostly Dutch heritage American, and stand 5′-10″ tall as a woman. Not an unusual height for women in our largely Dutch community.

    • Mary949 says:

      My father’s family came from Belgium to USA in the 1840’s. My grandfather born in 1890 was 6’1″ and my grandmother, also Belgian French, was born 1892 and was 5’7″. My grandfather was part Norwegian. My mother’s family were German from Westphalia, grandmother was 5″10. Their parents were similar size, all tall. No growth hormones, etc. just large people all around. They were all farmers in the USA and mostly farmers in Europe as far as I can tell. My sister is 5″9 and my brothers all over 6″1. I’m the midget at 5″7.

  63. FluffiFluffsson says:

    Their real average is 181 cm and 168 cm, according to CBS. 184 cm sounds a bit too much…

  64. Patrick Clark says:

    That diet sounds like an average mid western American diet, and they live on farms so food is plentiful. I don’t see how that can be the primary factor for why the Dutch are so tall. The distribution of wealth? Come on, American mid westerners have had that diet for decades if not centuries, most of them aren’t on any worlds tallest people lists.

  65. Dipo says:

    An article I found in the Guardian

    “For example, the most fertile men were seven centimetres above the average height. Statistically, they had 0.24 more children on average than the least fertile men, who were about 14 cm below the average height.”

    Basically women want tall men. Kids will be taller.

    I am Dutch and yes preference is for tall men 🙂
    Next to nutricion which feels like a necessary component to growth, a natural selection dynamic is happening.

    • tentantoes says:

      As a woman and 5’8″, I just feel, perhaps falsely so, more protected by taller men. But funny & nice trump’s tall!!

  66. charly evans says:

    It is not Normal for a average man to be 6 ft and average female 5 ft 7. In the Netherlands they would feed the animals growth hormones and this is why they are all tall.If nature wasn’t tampered with i would imagine the average dutch male would be around 5 ft 5 to 5 ft 7 inches. That’s the average for males here in Canada 5 ft 5 to 5 ft 7 and USA as well.

  67. Peter says:

    The Dutch dairy meant to grow the calves, makes the Dutch grow tall but also fuels their Dutch cancer growths. See Affluent Cancers and Diet – Unravelling the Confusion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-isCBl0Yiaw

  68. Incognito Incognitov says:

    Growth hormone usage in the cattle is the answer. Denmark – 1st place cancer frequency. Just think about it.

  69. David Robbert de Ruiter says:

    It propably has to do with the fact the Dutch people had a gene which correlates to the time the Nothern part of the Netherlands was in constant war with the sea. You were needed at the front not to fight against people but to carry big boulders of slick to prevent the people to drown. You needed big hands and big hands is found in big people. If you could not help you were asked to leave the group or you were send away because the community could not sustain you presence due to lack of food. Also when the Romans and later the Germans came and asked for man to fight their wars the Dutch frequently asked to take the shorter man because thy needed the big ones to fight of the water. I think this is the most important factor.

  70. Wotthe says:

    I grew up in a country Australian town where most people were short. The old people told me that the tall men all died in ww1 and ww2 because they were bigger targets. The Dutch never fought against the Germans in large numbers. Consequently short Aussies, Americans etc and tall Dutch.

  71. bear48624862 says:

    So pretty much the ideal diet is to eat a lot of animal products until you stop growing, then switch to a Mediterranean/vegetarian/proletarian/vegan diet?

5 Pings/Trackbacks for "Why the Dutch are so tall"
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