Are The Dutch The Tallest In The World?


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 large scientific studies shed light on this question and help us understand the remarkable increase in average heights in The Netherlands.

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.

There are some fascinating lessons behind the growth miracle of the Dutch. Read on to find out why average heights in The Netherlands became the highest in the world.

Average Heights In The Netherlands

Three large scientific studies demonstrated that people in The Netherlands are the tallest people in the world and helped us understand the remarkable average heights in The Netherlands.

  1. 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.
  2. A more recent study from 2020 (height and body mass index trajectories of school-aged children en 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.
  3. 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.

An important 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.

The average heights in The Netherlands in these three scientific studies are shown in the table below.

Study Average male height Netherlands Average female height Netherlands
2016 study182,5 cm / 5′ 11.9″ (rank 1)170 cm / 5′ 6.9″ (rank 2)
2020 study183,8 cm / 6′ 0,4″ (rank 1)170,4 cm / 5′ 7.1″ (rank 1)
2021 study182,9 cm / 6′ 0,0″169,3 cm / 5′ 6.7″

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. The Body Mass Index (BMI) of Dutch men and women were average, indicating that they had the right kind of growth in length.

A national study in 2021 by our Dutch National Bureau of Statistics (CBS) with 719.000 participants studied the change in average heights in The Netherlands. This Dutch study showed that the average heights were not statistically different from the Lancet study, supporting its validity.

Interestingly, This Dutch study also 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 study 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 larger influence, like changing dietary habits in The Netherlands with fewer nutrients necessary for growth but more calories.

Whatever the outcome of these follow-up studies, it seems that the Dutch will remain the tallest in the world for the foreseeable future.

What Is The Average Male Height In The Netherlands?

What is the average male height in the Netherlands if Dutch men are the tallest in the world?

There are now three separate studies with three (slightly) different outcomes on the average male height in The Netherlands. However, I believe that the 2021 national study by the Dutch National Bureau of Statistics (CBS), with data until 2020, provides the best measurement of the average height of men in The Netherlands.

The average male height in The Netherlands is 182,8 cm (6′ 0,0″), making Dutch men the tallest in the world. Male average height in The Netherlands decreased by 1,0 cm (0,4″) since 2000, caused by changing dietary habits with fewer nutrients and more calories.

Despite this recent decrease in average heights, men in The Netherlands are, on average, still the tallest men in the world. 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. At present, the reason for the variation is still unknown.

What Is The Average Female Height In The Netherlands?

The best assessment of the average female height in The Netherlands is the Dutch study, published in 2021, with data until 2020.

Dutch women are the tallest women in the world, with an average female height in The Netherlands of 169,3 cm (5′ 6.7″). However, Dutch female average height decreased by 1,4 cm (0,55″) since 2000, caused by changing dietary habits with fewer nutrients and more calories.

Similar to the men, there is not much variation in length among Dutch women. However, there is some variation in the length of Dutch women related to where they live in The Netherlands. For example, the tallest women live in the north and are about 3 centimeters (1,2”) taller than women in the south of The Netherlands. It is unknown what caused this variation.

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
1The Netherlands12
2Belgium33
3Estonia4
32United Kingdom8
37United States7
93China130
102Japan187

The largest part of this growth spurt of the Dutch took place between 1950 and 2000. The increase in height has 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
1Latvia28
2The Netherlands38
3Estonia16
38United Kingdom57
42United States4
87China134
112Japan195

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 the 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. Currently, 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 improvements in living standards and health care, 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 the growth of children 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.

Sources

  • NCD Risk Factor Collaboration: Height and body mass index trajectories of school-aged children en 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 performed a recent comparison of adult human heights in 179 countries. Eight hundred scientists participated in this enormous project. The study was based on 1472 data sources, and combined data of 18.6 million people were analyzed. The study “a century of trends in adult human height” was published in 2016.

Pim

Pim has lived his entire life in The Netherlands in various parts of the country. Pim enjoys writing this blog because it is a wonderful excuse to revisit all the parts of the Netherland that he liked and rediscover all the activities that he enjoyed. He hopes that you will enjoy The Netherlands as much as he does.

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