Mean Height Around The World

According to the WHO growth reference standards, the expected average height of a population should be 163 cm for women and 176.5 cm for men. In fact, the global average height for women is only 159.5 cm and for men 171 cm. The data related to average heights vary largely between the countries. We will compare in this article the average height between continents and countries. First, let us find out about the average height in the United States.

Average Height of US-Americans

Between 1999 and 2016, the National Health and Nutrition Examination (NCHS) conducted a large study measuring the average height, weight, and BMI. The nationally representative sample consisted of adults aged over 20. The results showed that mean height did not change in many demographic subgroups, and in some groups, it was even lower in 2016 than in 1999. In contrast, the mean weight, waist circumference, and BMI have all increased during the observation period.

Another study revealed that the average height of US-Americans has increased at a slower rate than many other countries around the world in the last century. In 1914, US-American men were the third and US-American women fourth-tallest in the world. A century later, women ranked only 42nd and men 37th in average height on a global scale. The tables below show the mean height of US adults by age and race in 2015-2016. The average height was about 175.1cm for adult men and about 161.4cm for women.

Mean Height of US Adults by Age: 2015-2016
Age/SexMenWomen
20-39176.1 cm162.7 cm
40-59175.8 cm162.1 cm
60 and over173.4 cm159.3 cm

Table 1 Mean Height by Age; Fryar et al. 2018

Mean Height of US Adult by Race: 2015-2016
Race and Hispanic originMenWomen
Non-Hispanic White177.4 cm163.3 cm
Non-Hispanic Nlack175.5 cm162.6 cm
Non-Hispanic Asian169.7 cm156.2 cm
Hispanic169.5 cm156.7 cm

Table 2 Mean Height by Race; Fryar et al. 2018

How Tall are Men and Women Across the World?

women of different heights by country and race

Variations in height difference across the world do not only indicate only to genetic factors, but also general differences in living standards. This is mainly due to the influence of environmental factors such as nutrition and health.

Looking across the world, the tallest men and women are found in Europe with a mean height of 180 cm for men and 167 cm for women. Citizens of South Asians tend to be the shortest, as women have a mean height of 153 cm and men of 165 cm.

Mean Height by Continent:
ContinentMenWomen
North America177 cm164 cm
South America171 cm158 cm
Central America168 cm155 cm
Africa168 cm158 cm
West, East, Central Asia171 cm159 cm
South, South-East Asia164 cm153 cm
Europe180 cm167 cm
Australia179 cm165 cm

Table 3 Mean Height by Continent; Our World in Data (https://ourworldindata.org/)

Now we figured out the height difference between the continents, but what are the exact countries with the highest and smallest mean height in the world?

The country with the tallest women and men are found in Europe. Men from the Netherlands have the highest average height with 182.5 cm. The country with the shortest men is Timor in South-East Asia at 160 cm. The tallest women in the world live in Latvia with a mean height of 170 cm, whereas women in Guatemala are on average only 149 cm tall.

Until the second half of the 19th century, the Dutch were actually among the the shortest people in Europe. However, due to a change of life quality and a better distribution of wealth, the Dutch became the tallest Europeans by the 1980s. Bolivia and Indonesia on the other side are among the poorest countries in the world and many children are chronically malnourished which also leads to a short height in adult age.

In absolute gains, South Korean women and Iran men showed the largest increase in mean height over the last century. The height of Korean women has increased by 20.2 cm, whereas the Iranian men grew taller on average by 16.5 cm. On the other side of the spectre, the average height of the citizens in Sub-Saharan African and South Asian countries has changed very little in the same period.

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