According to the World Health Organization's (WHO) growth reference standards, the expected average height of a woman should be 163 cm (5 ft 4.3 in) and the average height of a man 176.5 cm (5 ft 9.5 in).
However, the actual global average height of a woman is only 159.5 cm (5 ft 2.8 in) and the average height of a man is 171 cm (5 ft 7.3 in). Therefore, the height difference between men and women globally is about 4.5 inches or 12 centimeters.
The reason for this difference between the actual and expected average height is that a large share of children is stunted due to poor nutrition and illness. The average height of a population is strongly correlated with the living conditions in a population. It explains also large differences in the average height between different countries and continents.
This article compares the average height difference between countries and continents. But first, let’s have a look at the average height of US-Americans.
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 among adults. The nationally representative sample consisted of adults aged over 20.
The mean weight, waist circumference, and BMI have all increased during the observation period. However, the results for mean height showed no significant increase. Most demographic groups showed no change in mean height, while some groups even indicated a slight decrease.
Mean height decreased only significantly for men aged 40-59 from 1999 to 2016, and among non-Hispanic black men over the same period. The overall crude estimate of mean height for all women decreased significantly from 162.1 cm (5 ft 3.8 in) in 1999 to 161.5 cm (5 ft 3.6 in) in 2016.
Another study revealed that the average height of US-Americans has increased at a slower rate than the population of many other countries around the world in the last century. In 1914, US-American men were the third-tallest and US-American women the 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.
See below the mean height of US-American adults by age in 2015-2016:
|20-39||69.3 in (176.1 cm)||64.0 in (162.7 cm)|
|40-59||69.2 in (175.8 cm)||63.8 in (162.1 cm)|
|60 and over||68.3 in (173.4 cm)||62.7 in (159.3 cm)|
Table 1: Fryar, CD. et al. (2018, December). Mean height (inches, centimeters) among men and women by age group in the United States, 2015-2016.
The table below shows the mean height of US-American adults by race and Hispanic origin in 2015-2016:
|Race and Hispanic Origin||Men||Women|
|Non-Hispanic White||69.8 in (177.4 cm)||64.3 in (163.3 cm)|
|Non-Hispanic Black||69.1 in (175.5 cm)||64.0 in (162.6 cm)|
|Non-Hispanic Asian||66.8 in (169.7 cm)||61.5 in (156.2 cm)|
|Hispanic||66.7 in (169.5 cm)||61.7 in (156.7 cm)|
Table 2: Fryar, CD. et al. (2018, December). Mean height (inches, centimeters) among men and women by age group in the United States, 2015-2016.
How Tall Are People Across The Globe?
Variations in height between people living in certain regions are prevalent not only because of genetic factors but also because of differences in living conditions. Environmental factors such as nutrition, urbanization, health, or climate can all influence the development of children and adolescents.
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, followed by Australia. South Asians and South-East Asians tend to be the shortest with women having a mean height of 153 cm and men of 165 cm.
|North America||5 ft 9.7 in (177 cm)||5 ft 4.6 in (164 cm)|
|South America||5 ft 7.3 in (171 cm)||5 ft 2.2 in (158 cm)|
|Central America||5 ft 6.1 in (168 cm)||5 ft 1.0 in (155 cm)|
|Africa||5 ft 6.1 in (168 cm)||5 ft 2.2 in (158 cm)|
|West, East, Central Asia||5 ft 7.3 in (171 cm)||5 ft 2.6 in (159 cm)|
|South, South-East Asia||5 ft 4.6 in (164 cm)||5 ft 0.2 in (153 cm)|
|Europe||5 ft 10.9 in (180 cm)||5 ft 5.7 in (167 cm)|
|Australia||5 ft 10.5 in (179 cm)||5 ft 5.0 in (165 cm)|
Table 3: WorldData.info. Average sizes of men and women. Retrieved from https://www.worlddata.info/average-bodyheight.php#by-population
Where Do The World's Tallest People Live?
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 (5 ft 11.9 in). The tallest women in the world live in Latvia with a mean height of 170 cm (5 ft 6.9 in).
The list below shows the 10 tallest populations (men & women) by country:
The World's 10 Tallest Countries
- Bosnia & Herzegovina - 6' 0.5" (183.9 cm)
- The Netherlands - 6' 0.5" (183.8 cm)
- Montenegro - 6' 0" (183.2 cm)
- Denmark - 6' 0" (182.6 cm)
- Norway - 5' 11.75" (182.4 cm)
- Serbia - 5' 11.5" (182.0 cm)
- Iceland - 5' 11.5" (182.0 cm)
- Germany - 5' 11.25" (181.0 cm)
- Croatia - 5' 11" (180.5 cm)
- The Czech Republic - 5' 11" (180.3 cm)
Until the second half of the 19th century, the Dutch were actually among 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.
Where Do The World's Shortest People Live?
Currently, the shortest men with an average height of 160 cm (5 ft 3 in) live in Timor in South-East Asia, whereas women in Guatemala are on average only 149 cm (4 ft 10.7 in) tall.
The list below shows the 10 shortest populations (men & women) by country:
The World's 10 Shortest Countries
- Indonesia - 5' 2.25" (158.0 cm)
- Bolivia - 5' 3" (160.0 cm)
- The Philippines - 5' 3.75" (161.9 cm)
- Vietnam - 5' 3.75" (162.1 cm)
- Cambodia - 5' 4" (162.5 cm)
- Nepal - 5' 4.25" (163.0 cm)
- Ecuador - 5' 4.25" (163.5 cm)
- Sri Lanka - 5' 4.5" (163.6 cm)
- Nigeria - 5' 4.5" (163.8 cm)
- Peru - 5' 4.5" (164.0 cm)
Countries like Bolivia and Indonesia are among the poorest in the world and many children are chronically malnourished which leads to a comparable shorter stature in adult age.
Comparing stats from the last century to this, 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 7.95 inches (20.2 cm), whereas the Iranian men grew taller on average by 6.50 inches (16.5 cm).
On the other side of the specter, the average height of the citizens in Sub-Saharan African and South Asian countries has changed very little in the same period.
Evidence across many studies indicates that short adult height in low- and middle-income countries is driven by environmental factors, primarily by nutrition during childhood, and adolescence. It drives also the association of height with wealth and social outcomes.
The fact that the average height of the US and other Western populations has plateaued in the past decade suggests that the nutrient environment has almost maximized the genetic potential of height. Improved nutrition in developing countries may have similar benefits in terms of stature.
Are you surprised by these stats? Let us know in the comment section.
Adair et al. (2013, March). Associations of linear growth and relative weight gain during early life with adult health and human capital in countries of low and middle income: findings from five birth cohort studies. Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/
Fryar, CD, Kruszon-Moran, D, Gu, Q, Ogden, CL. (2018, December). Mean body weight, height, waist circumference, and body mass index among adults: United States, 1999–2000 through 2015–2016. National Health Statistics Reports. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/
NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD-RisC). (2016). A century of trends in adult human height. eLife, 5, e13410. Retrieved from https://doi.org/
Olson, Randy. (2014, June). Why Are the Dutch So Tall? Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/
Perkins, J. M., Subramanian, S. V., Davey Smith, G., & Özaltin, E. (2016). Adult height, nutrition, and population health. Nutrition reviews. Retrieved from https://doi.org/
Roser, M., Appel, C., Ritchie, H. (2013). Human Height. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/
Smith, Oliver. (2019, November). Mapped: The world's tallest (and shortest) countries. The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/
Wighton, Kate (2016, July). Dutch men and Latvian women tallest in world according to 100-year height study. Retrieved from https://www.imperial.ac.uk/
WorldData.info. Average sizes of men and women. Retrieved from https://www.worlddata.info/
World Health Organization. The WHO Child Growth Standards. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/