Bigger and Healthier: European Men Grow 11cm in a Century

Kate Kelland, Reuters, September 1, 2013

The average height of European men grew by a surprising 11 centimetres from the early 1870s to 1980, reflecting significant improvements in health across the region, according to new research published on Monday.

Contrary to expectations, the study also found that average height accelerated in the period spanning the two World Wars and the Great Depression, when poverty, food rationing and hardship of war might have been expected to limit people’s growth.

The swift advance may have been due to people deciding to have fewer children in this period, the researchers said, and smaller family size has previously been found to be linked to increasing average height.

“Increases in human stature are a key indicator of improvements in the average health of populations,” said Timothy Hatton, a professor economics at Britain’s University of Essex who led the study.

He said the evidence—which shows the average height of a European male growing from 167 cm to 178 cm in a little over a 100 years—suggests an environment of improving health and decreasing disease “is the single most important factor driving the increase in height”.

The study, published online in the journal Oxford Economic Papers, analysed data on average men’s height at around the age of 21 from the 1870s up to around 1980 in 15 European countries.

The study only looked at men, the researchers said, because extensive historical data on women’s heights is hard to come by.


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  • Puggg

    When I visited Daniel Boone’s last home in rural St. Charles County, Missouri, I was shocked to see how small his bed was.

    • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

      This is a common reaction, but it really doesn’t mean that people were shorter. People used to sleep half reclining, when they had beds at all. Sleeping half reclined also helped prevent people from dying when they had bad colds and pneumonia. I learned this while visiting the Tower of London in 1988 from a tour guide. The small armor displays at many museums is another cause of mistaken opinion on the size of people. Most surviving armor is for little boys, hence all the small armor. Henry Vlll’s armor shows him to have been 6′ tall.

      What this study leaves out is that wars wiped out the taller men, that were always recruited for infantry. It took two to three generations for the surviving female dna for height to result in taller men. The most healthy people in the world, i.e., the longest living are typically shorter populations. I had a short man for an astro physics class who demonstrated why shorter people will live longer, all other things being equal. One good reason is the distance the blood must travel in tall people. In them, the heart actually has to work harder for the same result, and so on…

      • Average height of a soldier in the WBTS, both sides combined, was 5’3″

  • dd121

    The Japanese have gotten bigger too. It’s about diet.

  • So, European men are 4″ taller (2.54cm = 1″), yet are too afraid to stop immigration?

  • Spartacus

    “…178 cm…”


    Bah ! I’m below average 🙁

    • bigone4u

      Below average in height you are, but above average in fighting spirit. That’s worth more than height.

    • 182.88 cm.

  • bigone4u

    Calcium in the acquifer water allegedly accounts for the stereotype of the long, tall Texan. It doesn’t seem to work on the “squat monsters” although maybe they haven’t been in Texas long enough.

  • JohnEngelman

    The black muggers where I live are over six feet tall. How does that happen on the crap diet they grow up on?

    • Chris

      I wondered that too. Africans have very poor diet but grow very tall. Seems to belie this study.

      • MikeofAges

        Again, some expertise is called for. The African American diet, at least, might not be inadequate at all in terms of protein and other essential nutrients even if it is not well balanced in many cases. In Sub Saharan Africa, the available native diet might be adequate in some places and not in others. Or adequate for one element within a local population but not for another.

    • NM156

      That crap diet contains a whole lotta protein. It’s not broiled or grilled low-fat chicken or salmon, but it’s a muscle-building and hormone-precursor protein nonetheless.

      • JohnEngelman

        The ghetto diet emphasizes fast food. This has lots of protein to help young ghetto thugs build strong bodies for street fighting and mugging.

        It also has lots of salt and saturated fat. This shortens the lives of violent street criminals, if they do not get killed first by other violent street criminals.

    • Bossman

      The tallest people used to be Blacks from many parts of East Africa. In the U.S. many Blacks are very tall. Some Indians tribes such as the Patagonian of South America were described as being giants.

  • T_Losan

    Oddly enough, average height in the Middle Ages was almost what it is today. The 1800s were a low point in the history of human height so the data appears chosen for dramatic effect. Google “height middle ages”

    • Ivin Karamazov

      Ppl in the middle ages were midgets compared to today.

      • MikeofAges

        Let’s just try to get accurate data, please. From what I have seen of garments and structures from earlier eras, people must have been smaller. Not like there aren’t surviving buildings, textiles, armor and skeletal remains. But keep in mind, in an actual fighting cavalry, smaller men might have been preferred. The same today, different-sized men (and women) sometimes are preferred for different functions in the workforce and the military, not to mention in sports or in entertainment.

        • T_Losan

          “A recent study conducted at Ohio State University, based on skeletal data from 30 previous studies, reveals that men living during the 9th to 11th centuries had an average height of about 5 feet 8 inches. Average height then steadily declined until it reached a low point of 5 feet 5.5 inches in the 17th and 18th centuries, rising again through the 19th century and only reaching prior heights in the first half of the 20th century. An article on the study by Richard Steckel appears in the Social Science History journal.”

          • MikeofAges

            I hope I’m getting the source right, but anthropologist Jack Weatherford in a book published in the 1990s, “Savages and Civilization” made note of the fact that neolithic populations forced into agriculture in the ancient produced much smaller descendants. Weatherford’s book is close to banned. Apparently, saying that civilization as we know it has not always been such a good deal for the human race is not allowed. I got the book from the Santa Clara (CA) library in the 1990s. They no longer have a copy. Of the four major library systems where I now live, King County, Tacoma, Seattle and Sno-Isle, only Seattle has a copy in its collection.

          • BonusGift

            That would seem to support T_Losan’s notion that the data was cherry picked for effect. At the least one would conclude that the implied narrative of things only get better must be suppressed.

  • ncpride

    Height is confusing to me, especially in my family. For example, my father is 6’1, my mother is 5’5, yet I only managed 5’1. My son, who hasn’t even hit puberty yet, is already 5’6, and I think he may even surpass his father who is 5’11. My daughter on the other hand is exactly my height at 5’1, and she will grow no more. My husband’s family is just as weird. He has two older brothers, and all three of them tower over both their parents who are fairly short. Genetics are just plain weird to me.

    • Sick of it

      Genetics include hereditary factors from grandparents and even great-grandparents. My dad and I are taller than the men in his father’s family due to Swedish ancestry via my great grandmother. I apparently look somewhat like that family as well.

      • ncpride

        That has to be true. I have freakishly tall relatives on my grandmothers side, and very petite relatives on my grandfathers side. Being that genetics are complicated and so wildly unpredictable, perhaps that’s why it’s so difficult for people to believe they play a role in IQ…? Just a thought.

        • Sick of it

          Possibly, but I honestly believe that people believe what they are taught to believe. Most do not seek answers for themselves, but readily accept the explanations of others.

    • MikeofAges

      In village communities where people have interbred little with outsiders for many generations, reportedly the men tend to be all about the same stature while there is considerable difference in the body size of women. Again, reportedly. Accurate data is needed. From an unbiased source, of course.

  • Fighting_Northern_Spirit

    I’m 6’1″ and my last girlfriend was 4’9″. People used to joke that we should form a ventriloquist act.

    • Sick of it

      I like short women as well.

  • Brian

    I personally doubt its all about diet.
    Archeologists studying Vikings buried in Greenland before it froze over around 1200AD at the start of the “little age age” found that the inhabitants became shorter, stockier as the temperatures dropped. Better adapted toward Icy climates. Some climatologists think we didn’t fully leave the little ice age until the 1920’s.

    People today are amazed at how short medieval suits of armor are. Modern people can’t fit into them.
    I told a friend of mine, a nurse, that in the Middle ages it was common for girls to begin puberty around age 18, but its put down to bad diets back then. She replied “I don’t think so”.
    Think Atavistic genes. And remember that the true evolution of the White race began with untold generations living in Icy climates, where if you can’t plan ahead, you died.

    • BonusGift

      Good point, and interesting.

    • Sick of it

      Women living in the terrible conditions of the American frontier hit puberty at much younger ages, as women have for millenia. Also remember that the earliest white groups lived in warmer climes. I’ve never been a fan of the ridiculous notion that we transformed from black people because we no longer lived in Africa…

  • Mike Conrad

    American males–and females–were increasing in average height until the 1980s too. Average male height briefly reached 5′-10″ in that decade.

    Then the effects of unrestricted third-world immigration began to catch up with us, and our average height has been in *decline* ever since. The Dutch, Danes, and Finns are now the tallest people on earth.

    See Komlos and Lauderdale, “Underperformance in Affluence: The Remarkable
    Relative Decline in U.S. Heights in the Second Half of the 20th
    Century.” Social Science Quarterly (June, 2007).

    • BonusGift

      They had had the same effect on standardized test scores and a myriad of other things many people seem surprised by (all in the negative direction; e.g., diseases reappearing, etc.).

  • BonusGift

    Similar for IQ distributions for Asians vs. Caucasians (i.e., Asians have fewer geniuses and idiots because of their narrow distribution).

  • BonusGift

    That’s interesting I knew they were on average tall, but I thought that Lithuania or Holland held the title these days (i.e., Holland excluding their invaders). My guess is that Lithuania and Holland also have fairly large standard deviations as well (i.e., relative to other populations).

  • HJ11

    I suggest rapid evolution. Another study shows that the skulls of Whites are quickly getting larger, longer and thinner.* Why? My guess is that this is to accomodate larger brains. Why would nature not make our skulls broader side to side to accomplish this? Because the White female biirt canal and pelvis are not simultaneously getting larger to accomodate wider heads.

    *The volume increase of our skulls is about the size of a tennis ball, according to the study. And, in terms of flesh, this is huge.

  • Magician

    I am also willing to bet that boys (and girls) of all races living in the western world also gained 25 pounds over the last century

  • Magician


  • MikeofAges

    Some disagreement on this issue. Allegedly, in the time of Augustus the average man in Palestine was 5’3″ and the average woman maybe 4’10”. That puts the Shroud of Turin in an interesting light. The figure on the shroud seems to be at least 6’6″. If that was the authentic image of Jesus, that would have made him the tallest indigenous man in that part of the world except maybe for a rare Northern European or African visitor.

    I don’t want to argue the “Shroud”, but I took the issue up with one advocate for it authenticity. She said that they had researched the issue and concluded that the figure on the shroud represented a 6’1″ man. Not too many of that height in ancient Palestine, but not an implausible figure.

    Overall, I think this is a subject for which there are not yet definitive answers. Comparing numbers for different eras is made more difficult by the fact that the ethnic composition of an population can change over time.

  • Sick of it

    Pygmies came first, after all.