If you visit The Netherlands, you will notice immediately that the Dutch are remarkably tall and that the average heights in The Netherlands seem higher than in any other country. Are the Dutch indeed the tallest people in the world?
Three scientific studies show that the Dutch are the tallest in the world. The average height of Dutch men is 182,8 cm ( 6′ 0.0″), and the average height of Dutch women is 169,3 cm (5′ 6.7″). The Dutch are tall due to high living standards, an excellent health care system, and natural selection.
Read on to learn more about average heights in The Netherlands and understand how the Dutch became the tallest in the world.
What Is The Average Height In The Netherlands?
To answer the question if the Dutch are the tallest people in the world, we first need to determine the average height in the Netherlands. Three large scientific studies focused on the average height of the Dutch and compared the Netherlands’ average height to that of other countries.
|Study||Average height men Netherlands||Average height women Netherlands|
|2016 study||182,5 cm / 5′ 11.9″ (rank 1)||170 cm / 5′ 6.9″ (rank 2)|
|2020 study||183,8 cm / 6′ 0,4″ (rank 1)||170,4 cm / 5′ 7.1″ (rank 1)|
|2021 study||182,9 cm / 6′ 0,0″||169,3 cm / 5′ 6.7″|
It is evident that the average heights in The Netherlands are virtually the same in all three scientific studies and that the Netherlands average height leveled off over the last few decades. The most recent data from the 2021 study even indicate a slight decline in the average height of the Dutch.
The average height of men in the Netherlands was 182,9 cm in 2021, while the average height of women in The Netherlands in 2021 was 169,3 cm (5′ 6.7”).
It is not surprising that there are minor differences in average heights in The Netherlands between these three studies. The difference between these three studies is the period during which the increase in average height in the population was measured. The 2020 Lancet study covered the period between 1985 and 2019, virtually similar to the Dutch study (1980-2020). In contrast, the first study covered an earlier period, from 1914 to 2014.
Interestingly, a recent Dutch study showed that men born in The Netherlands in 2001 were, on average, 1 cm smaller than men born in 1980. Similarly, women born in The Netherlands in 2001 were, on average, 1.4 cm smaller than those born in 1980. Hence, it seems that the remarkable growth of the Dutch has come to a standstill.
At present, it is still unclear why the growth of the Dutch is leveling off, but Dutch scientists have studied several possible explanations. First, the increased immigration with shorter population groups and their children born in The Netherlands may be a possible explanation. However, other factors may have a more significant influence, like changing dietary habits in The Netherlands with fewer nutrients necessary for growth but more calories.
Interestingly, there is not much variation in length between Dutch males. More than 40% of men in The Netherlands have a height that deviates less than 5 cm from the average height.
There is some geographic variation in the height of men in The Netherlands. For example, the tallest men in The Netherlands live in the north of the Netherlands. On average, men in the north of The Netherlands are around 3 centimeters (1,2”) taller than men in the south.
Similarly, the tallest women live in the north and are about 3 centimeters (1,2”) taller than women in the south of The Netherlands. At present, the reason for the variation is still unknown.
- The first study from 2016 (a century of trends in adult human height) was published in 2016 and studied the increase in heights between 1914-and 2014, including 18.6 million participants in 200 countries.
- A more recent study from 2020 (height and body mass index trajectories of school-aged children in adolescents from 1985 – 2019 in 200 countries and territories: a pooled analysis of 2181 population-based studies with 65 million participants) was published in The Lancet in 2020.
- A Dutch study from 2021 with 719.000 participants studied the average heights of Dutch men and women at 19 between 1980-and 2020. This Dutch study focussed on trends in average heights in the Netherlands instead of an international comparison of national heights.
So, now that we have the Netherlands’ average height let’s find out if the Dutch are indeed the tallest people in the world.
Are The Dutch The Tallest In The World?
The studies of 2016 and 2020 also compared the Netherlands’ average height to that of other countries.
Dutch men were the tallest in both international studies (2016 and 2018), while Dutch women ranked second in the 2016 study but first in the 2020 study. Male and female average heights have slightly decreased in the Netherlands since 2000, but the Dutch remain the tallest people in the world.
The Body Mass Index (BMI) of Dutch men and women were average, indicating that they had the right kind of growth in length.
Now that we have looked at the average heights in The Netherlands, you may wonder what is considered tall in The Netherlands. The metric for being tall is often defined by the height of the tallest 2% of the male and female population in a country.
What Is Considered Tall In The Netherlands?
The minimum lengths of the tallest 2% of the male and female population in The Netherlands are shown in the table below.
|Part of population||Dutch males||Dutch females|
|Tallest 2%||>198 cm / 6′ 6”||> 184 / 6′ 0,5”|
The tallest 2% of males in The Netherlands are taller than 198 cm (6′ 6”), while the tallest 2% of females in The Netherlands are taller than 184 cm (6′ 0,5”).
Now that we have looked at the giants, let’s also look at what is considered small in The Netherlands.
What Is Considered Small In The Netherlands?
I have also looked at the lengths of the smallest 2% of the population in The Netherlands and shown this in the table below.
|Part of population||Dutch males||Dutch females|
|smallest 2%||< 170 cm / 5′ 7”||< 158 / 5′ 2”|
The smallest 2% of males in The Netherlands are shorter than 170 cm (5′ 7″), while the smallest 2% of females in The Netherlands are shorter than 158 cm (5′ 2″).
Now that we have defined the average, tallest and smallest heights in the Netherlands, let’s try to understand the growth of the Dutch in more detail.
When Did The Dutch Grow So Much?
The increase in the average height of the Dutch in the last century has been truly remarkable.
In the 2016 study, the men in The Netherlands were the tallest in the world in 2014 while ranking number 12 in 1914. During this century, men in the Netherlands have grown, on average, about 20 centimeters (7,9”).
In contrast, male height in the United States increased by only 6 centimeters over this period. Equivalent differences in growth are also observed between The Netherlands and other European countries. Male growth has leveled earlier in other Western countries, while the Dutch males continued to grow.
|2014 ranking||Country||1914 ranking|
The most significant part of this growth spurt of the Dutch took place between 1950 and 2000. The increase in height leveled off after 2000. It seems that the Dutch are finally reaching some natural limitations in length.
The relative increase in women’s heights in the Netherlands is even more remarkable than the increase in men’s heights. Women in The Netherlands were the second tallest in the world in 2014 while ranking only 38 a century earlier.
Women in the Netherlands have grown, on average, 20 centimeters (7,9”) taller during this period. Like the men, women in the Netherlands continued to grow while the average height in other Western countries leveled earlier.
|2014 ranking||Country||1914 ranking|
Why Are The Dutch So Tall?
Scientists have identified three complementary factors to explain why the Dutch are so tall.
The Dutch are so tall due to a combination of high living standards, excellent health care, and natural selection. High living standards allowed the Dutch to afford high-quality nutrition, and superb health care prevented many childhood diseases. Tall Dutch men and women also have relatively more children, further increasing average heights in The Netherlands.
Let’s discuss these three factors that drove the remarkable growth of the Dutch in more detail.
1. High Living Standards
All levels of society in The Netherlands have seen their living standard increase significantly during the last two centuries. An earlier Dutch growth spurt of the mid-nineteenth century is closely related to an emerging democracy in The Netherlands. As a result, the gap between rich and poor in The Netherlands became significantly smaller.
The Netherlands was already rich, but its prosperity was in the hands of a small top layer. Through increased democracy and social mobility, wealth began to filter through to all levels of Dutch society, visibly improving the general standard of living. This process started in the mid-nineteenth century and was a catalyst for everybody’s well-being and health at all levels of society in the Netherlands.
In addition, the discovery and exploration of huge natural gas reserves in the Netherlands in 1960 generated tens of billions of Euros annually and allowed The Netherlands to build a welfare state. The establishment of this welfare state increased the general level of prosperity tremendously.
For example, Dutch parents receive € 1000-1200/child annually to buy better nutrition for their children. A family with three children receives € 3000-4000 to buy high-quality food.
The increase in living standards in the last century allowed the Dutch to afford better nutrition and their well-fed children grew much more. However, changing dietary habits since 2000 with fewer nutrients and more calories are causing a decline in Dutch average heights.
The growth of the Dutch has often been attributed to their consumption of lots of dairy products. And it is correct that animal proteins from meat and milk products are good for children’s growth.
However, the consumption of dairy products can’t be the only explanation for the increase in the height of the Dutch. The Dutch already consumed a lot of dairy products long before they started to grow so much. Therefore, other aspects must have contributed to the Dutch’s growth spurt during the last century.
2. Excellent Health Care System
The annual income from the exploration of the natural gas reserves was also used to build an excellent universal health care system in The Netherlands.
The Dutch Health Care system is another reason the Dutch are so tall because it prevented many childhood diseases that diminish children’s growth. In addition, Dutch babies are carefully monitored and treated immediately if any disease still occurs.
Because babies receive excellent health care in The Netherlands, they grow much better. For example, vaccinations against severe diseases like polio are free of charge, and many of these childhood diseases have disappeared in The Netherlands.
3. Natural Selection
Improved living standards and excellent health cannot be the only explanation for the increase in the height of the Dutch. Other Western nations have enjoyed similar living standards and health care improvements, yet their citizens have not grown as much as the Dutch.
The trend in increased height leveled off much earlier in other European nations than in The Netherlands. Therefore, other factors must contribute to children’s growth in The Netherlands.
Height is a heritable trait; taller parents will have taller children than normal parents. It appears that in The Netherlands, tall men are more popular with women than smaller men.
Tall men and tall women in The Netherlands have, on average, more children than in other countries. This remarkable characteristic has led to even further growth in the average height of the Dutch population.
Can we be proud of our height in The Netherlands? I believe that we can be proud of the height of the Dutch as a symbol of sustainable prosperity.
- NCD Risk Factor Collaboration: Height and body mass index trajectories of school-aged children in adolescents from 1985 – 2019 in 200 countries and territories: a pooled analysis of 2181 population-based studies with 65 million participants) was published in The Lancet in 2020.
- The NCD Risk Factor Collaboration has recently compared adult human heights in 179 countries. Eight hundred scientists participated in this enormous project. The study was based on 1472 data sources, and data of 18.6 million people were analyzed. The study “a century of trends in adult human height” was published in 2016.
- Does natural selection favor taller stature among the tallest people on earth? Gert Stulp et al. May 2015.
- Nederlanders korter, maar nog steeds lang. CBS (Dutch National Bureau of Statistics). 2021.