March 31, 2013

Tallest people in Europe

Average height is fairly interesting from both a nature and a nurture standpoint. The hygienic and well-fed Dutch famously shot up in height in the second half of the 20th Century. Yet, mountain people from the Balkans, mostly poor areas that underwent some chaos in the 1990s, still have taller young men.

From Dynamique de l'évolution humaine:
Average height of adolescents in the Dinaric Alps. 
[Article in French] 
Pineau JC, Delamarche P, Bozinovic S. 
Dynamique de l'évolution humaine, CNRS, UPR 2147, 44, rue de l'Amiral-Mouchez, 75014 Paris, France. jc.pineau@wanadoo.fr

This study contributes to an update of average heights among European populations. Our investigation covering 2705 boys and 2842 girls aged 17 years, shows that, contrary to the general belief, adolescents of the Dinaric Alps are, on average, the tallest in Europe. With an average height of 185,6 cm [6'-1.1"], they are taller than Dutch adolescents (184 cm on average [6'-0.4"]).

In the U.S. in 2003-2005, the government's NHANES study (conducted to help the clothing industry get the most common measurements), barefooted white men ages 20-39 averaged 5'-10.4", black men 5'-10.0", and Hispanic men 5'-7.1".
Above all, the density of very tall subjects appears to be characteristic of the Dinaric Alps, since 28% measure 190 cm [6'-2.8"] or more in height, as opposed to only 20% in Holland and 1.5% in France.

NHANES found the 95th percentile for American white men age 20-39 at 6'-2.9" and for black men 20-39 at 6'-3.1".
Although our information is not complete, adolescent girls in the Dinaric Alps, with an average height of 171 cm [5'-7.3"] come a close second to girls in Holland.

The Dinaric Alps are a 400 mile-long range that runs along the Adriatic coast through most of the countries of the Balkans, such as Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, and Albania. Yugoslavia used to be the third best country in Olympic basketball after the U.S. and the Soviet Union, although its successor states have tailed off. Lots of long-legged fashion models come from these countries.

This isn't a new discovery, by the way. Physical Anthropologist Carleton Coon's 1950 book on the Gheg tribe of Albania was entitled The Mountain of Giants.

The other area that traditionally produces a lot of basketball players is the Baltic, such as Lithuania.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the area has a lot of slavs, pre-slav people, Illyrians, Thracians and goths that came down and invaded the place. Vlache people as well. Some would correct me on this.

Anonymous said...

Well, the author of the book thought they might be of the Illyrian stock and mention Constantine and Justinian born not too far from the area. One statue of Constantine seems to kind of fit the description with the broad head.

Anonymous said...

Justinian's uncle Justin was described as tall while Justinian was more medium height. They too were illyrians with some Thracian background from the ancient and medieval sources.

Anonymous said...

Americans are the same height as wherever their ancestors came from.

The Dutch in western Michigan are also known for being tall.

The Southern Europeans in New York are noticeably shorter than the Germans from the Midwest. British Americans are somewhere in between.

Asian Americans may be taller than their parents, but they're the same size pretty much as their cousins back home. It doesn't take much nutrition to hit your genetic potential.

Somalian immigrants look skinny and malnourished, but I've yet to see a short one.

S said...

A ton of tall, dominant, tennis players from this region as well. Djokovic is a mere 6' 3''.

Drunk Idiot said...

The old Soviet basketball teams were made up primarily of Lithuanian players. Certainly, the best Soviet players of the 80s (Arvydas Sabonis, Šarūnas Marčiulionis etc.) were Lithuanians.

Most of the Europeans who play high level basketball in America (NBA and NCAA Division I college basketball) are tall Lithuanians and Serbs/Croats.

But if you watch closely, you'll notice that Lithuanians tend to be very athletic/explosive run/jump athletes, while Serbs & Croats tend to be tall and slow (and seem to have an aversion to playing defense in the post).

All Eastern European players can shoot the ball, though.

If I were coaching basketball at a Division I, but non-elite college basketball program in the U.S., I'd be in Eastern Europe every other week, in search of skilled big men.

The Lithuanians tend to be better athletes and better all-round players (impressive for a country with a population of 2.9 million), but there's no shortage of 6'9" - 6'10" Serbs and Croats who can be good Division I players.

Simon said...

I put most of those citations in wikipedia NHANES, Dinaric Alps etc.
It was interesting to note how close the average and standard deviations were for white and black Americans. Of course my interest in height was piqued by being a basketball fan, which often leads to the assumption that African Americans are taller.
I decided to track down the sources listed above on average height in response to this article in the New Yorker - http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/04/05/040405fa_fact
Apparently according to this article the Dutch, closest cousins of the British, average Six Feet One and the average American is shorter than the average European. The reason given for this disparity was social welfare spending and not ethnicity or immigration.
Of course, an average height of six feet one implies that there as many young Dutch men standing 6’4” as there are standing 5’9” – which activated my BS alarm.
I’ve never found a source actually claiming an average Dutch height of six feet one, besides newspaper articles. I found some claiming 1.84m (6’0.4”) for certain age ranges and found out that the data was self-reported – this implies that measured heights would be about an inch less.
This would being the average heights of the young Dutch back to populations of Germany and Denmark which is unsurprising given the similar living standards and lack of mountains to create genetic islands.
The idea that the average European is taller than the average American struck me as strange after I visited Paris.
Long story short – the youngest and tallest Northern Europeans are about 1/3rd of a standard deviation taller than young white Americans. However, most countries in Europe have lower mean heights than the USA. I have read studies showing that genes for tall stature are more common in Northern Europe. That being the case and given there are large numbers of Italians/Spanish/French etc in the white US population I think that if height reflects physical standard of living than the US is still outperforming Europe in direct contradiction of the New Yorker article.
As a quick aside I’m also suspicious of military records for heights, my friend applied for the Army in Australia and contrary to the usual trend of being told that you are shorter than you thought, he found out that he was slightly taller than expected. Why might medical examiners exaggerate soldiers and conscripts heights? So more applicants fall into the healthy range of the BMI and are found fit for duty.
As for the Dinaric Alp article ? I found it because people kept telling me about giants in the Balkans, I would like to know more about it. Seems that heights were measured which makes it an impressive data set. Still relying on the self-reported Dutch data makes me sceptical about the reliability of the article.
Interesting side note – Canadians claim a much lower obesity rate than Americans because they use self-reported heights and weights for calculating obesity. You get the double whammy effect of being optimistic about your height and your weight! From the same data Canadians also claim to be on average taller than white Americans. You can imagine what I think!

DJF said...

(conducted to help the clothing industry get the most common measurements),

Which clothing industry, I am betting that what was left of the American clothing industry had plenty of information on US clothing sizes, the Globalist clothing industry however probably appreciated the free research they were given by the US taxpayers which they could use to drive the remaining US manufacturers out of business

dearieme said...

"Americans are the same height as wherever their ancestors came from.

The Dutch in western Michigan are also known for being tall."

That misses the point that Dutch tallness is recent.

Anonymous said...

" taller than Dutch adolescents (184 cm on average [6'-0.4"])."

Was this the average height of ethnic Dutch, or the average height of Dutch citizens including those of foreign origin?

AlexT said...

The Dinaric alps are indeed full ov tall people. They are also the most tribal area in Europe. Albanians and Serbs in the region still identify primarily with the tribe, and most of the nationalist leaders of the 90's wars trace their not too distant ancestry to this region. I have been down there a couple of times and that is easily the most warm, hospitable, and dangerous place in Europe.

pat said...

Some specific heights are important. For example there is a law of nature (or at least of Hollywood nature) that says no man is allowed to speak in a movie if he is taller than 6'7". This I call the Jim Arness law. He was the tallest man in any film or TV show to actually ever routinely have dialog. Clint Walker didn't say much on the screen but at least he was allowed to. He was very near the limit but still below.

Nathan Jones keeps his mouth shut as did Kevin Peter Hall.

Albertosaurus

Matra said...

Since Serbs and athleticism has been mentioned how does one explain such a small nation being dominant in an international sport like tennis? Even outside of Serbia the top Canadian players of the past 20 years have all been of Serbian/Montenegrin parentage, the top US player, John Isner, has a Serb parent, and the top Australian, Bernard Tomic, is Serbian or Croatian.

Anonymous said...

"Of course my interest in height was piqued by being a basketball fan, which often leads to the assumption that African Americans are taller."

White Americans are slightly taller than African Americans. But the bell curve is wider for African Americans, meaning that they produce a disproportionate number of tall people (as well as short people).

Anonymous said...

"That misses the point that Dutch tallness is recent."

Your missing the point entirely.

There was a period in the 1700's and 1800's where growth was drastically stunted, as people moved to the cities, where disease and nutrition were unsolved problems.

The Dutch were the first population to urbanize, and perhaps as a result of that, the first population also to get stunted.

In the 1900's, everyone's height shot back up again.

sunbeam said...

I knew Yugoslavia had some excellent basketball players, but this height thing is news to me.

I kind of get the mountains and isolation thing.

But the Swiss aren't known for being tall are they?

So why wouldn't they have the same tallness features in their population?

I had thought that the "alpine" type was just that, alpine. You know adapted to the mountains. I'd think being tall and slender wouldn't be an advantage in a mountainous region.

So why the difference?

dearieme said...

"In the 1900's, everyone's height shot back up again": you're missing the point again. It wasn't "In the 1900's": it's happened in the last few decades.

realist said...

I find it hard to believe they're really that tall. I would really really love to fly down and confirm this data for myself. What part of the Dinaric Alps is tallest? How would one go about traveling there? What specific country would one buy a ticket to to find the tallest people? Are there hotels? Do they speak English? I would love to hang out with people at my eye level? Can't stand being around short people everywhere I go.

realist said...

The Dutch went from being significantly shorter than Americans to way taller in record time. Over the same period IQ performance (on culture reduced tests) increased by 21 points. This is one reason why I believe the Flynn Effect is caused by nutrition; height gains parallel IQ gains very closely.

realist said...

Some specific heights are important. For example there is a law of nature (or at least of Hollywood nature) that says no man is allowed to speak in a movie if he is taller than 6'7".

Kind of symbolic that wrestler Tyler Maine (6'8"-6'11") was cast to play Michael Myer's in Rob Zombie's Halloween remake (a character who never speaks as an adult)

jody said...

yeah that's one of those things where visibility skews perception. i don't think africans in the US are taller than europeans, but they're better at hoops than everybody else, man for man, so a tall african guy is more likely to make it to regular playing time DI basketball or NBA basketball than a tall guy who is not african.

so you end up seeing lots of 6-8 african players and start to assume they're there because they're taller than everybody else, as hoops is a height based game.

not that they're not tall. they are. but they're tall AND great at hoops. that's why they're there. they also care about it A LOT, whereas it's popularity varies around the world. they probably care about it the most out of any one group.

i posted last year that NBA television ratings now depend heavily on africans in the US tuning in. they might be half the audience at this point. so about 13% of the population but approaching 50% of the viewers nationally.

jody said...

"Some specific heights are important. For example there is a law of nature (or at least of Hollywood nature) that says no man is allowed to speak in a movie if he is taller than 6'7""

well there was john matuszak, the NFL player who started in movies around 29 or 30. he got to speak. he was not a star or anything but he had lines in most of his roles. number 1 overall draft pick in 1973 and was about 6-8.

andrew bogut is croatian. kevin mchale's mom is also croatian. keith van horn is part dutch. rik smits is dutch. i'm not gonna go do some long research project checking out every player's background, but those were a few i knew about.

there is a freak athlete in the NFL draft this year, 6-8 margus hunt, from estonia, but that's not exactly lithuania, not sure what the history of estonia is with regards to sports, it's small, not something i ever checked out. although if europe played american football, there would be dozens of these guys in the league, along with hundreds of more normal, average-for-NFL-standards european giants.

realist said...

not that they're not tall. they are. but they're tall AND great at hoops. that's why they're there. they also care about it A LOT, whereas it's popularity varies around the world. they probably care about it the most out of any one group.

People care about what they're good at or what they perceive their people to be good at. If they weren't good, they wouldn't care.

Anonymous said...

Re: Simon, I read that same article, what was nonsense about it was that they were comparing US whites with Dutch, Germans, and Scandinavians who have always been tall, instead of the countries of the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand who would be expected to most similar to Americans given their common British heritage. I think Americans were slightly taller than Canadians, and somewhat taller than Brits and Kiwis, and about equal to Australians. Since Australia, New Zealand, and Britain had welfare states from one to several generations before the US did that would tend to undermine the welfare state did it argument, so they picked Nordic countries which have more homogenous white populations and with historical accounts of height going back centuries.

They acted as if everyone in the Europe had similar genes for height, as if Greeks were as tall as Swedes, or Portuguese as tall as the Dutch, which clearly they are not. They also ignored the fact that the Anglo countries tend to have a lot more people of Mediterranean ancestry, particularly from the shorter peoples of the Mediterranean, the US, Canada, and Australia have large numbers of Greeks and Southern Italians, as does France, but France wasn't compared despite it's welfare state, only the cradle to grave Scandinavians and Dutch. They admitted latter in the article that Baltic peoples living in the former USSR were quite a bit taller than their former Slavic and Turkic compatriots, but the same analogies were not employed in comparing Germanic peoples with their Celtic-Mediterranean-Germanic combo people. It was just a silly exercise to justify a big, fat, welfare state, even though sprinkled throughout the article was evidence to contradict it.

Anonymous said...

"The Dutch went from being significantly shorter than Americans to way taller in record time."

In the 1800's, America was a nation of well nourished farmers. Of course they were taller than Europeans, most of whom were peasant farmers, or stunted urbanites.

"That misses the point that Dutch tallness is recent."

Not according to this:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23222908

Dutch height increased over 150 years (which makes sense, given how people got stunted in the cities, and then started to shoot up again as sanitation and nutrition gradually improved). Average height there has been level since the 1990's.

"They acted as if everyone in the Europe had similar genes for height, as if Greeks were as tall as Swedes, or Portuguese as tall as the Dutch, which clearly they are not. They also ignored the fact that the Anglo countries tend to have a lot more people of Mediterranean ancestry, particularly from the shorter peoples of the Mediterranean, the US, Canada, and Australia have large numbers of Greeks and Southern Italians, as does France, but France wasn't compared despite it's welfare state, only the cradle to grave Scandinavians and Dutch. They admitted latter in the article that Baltic peoples living in the former USSR were quite a bit taller than their former Slavic and Turkic compatriots, but the same analogies were not employed in comparing Germanic peoples with their Celtic-Mediterranean-Germanic combo people. It was just a silly exercise to justify a big, fat, welfare state, even though sprinkled throughout the article was evidence to contradict it."

The same stupid BS is cited here with regards to life expectancy, namely African Americans living a decade less. It's used to bash the American healthcare system. Of course, everyone ignores the statistic that American Hispanics (who have even less access to healthcare) have the same life expectancy pretty much as whites.

"I find it hard to believe they're really that tall."

Based upon my experiences having met many Yugoslavian immigrants, they are pretty darn tall. Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks are all pretty tall. The nearby Albanians are definitely shorter though, much closer to the Southern European norm.

"Still relying on the self-reported Dutch data makes me sceptical about the reliability of the article."

Self reported data is completed BS, which makes these comparisons challenging. The American NHANES is very good data. Based on my personal experience though, the Dutch men are close to 6' and noticeably taller than the "average" white American, but you can go to places here in the U.S. like Minnesota and Western Michigan and find similar sized folk on average.

Simon said...

While some people are scowling Eastern Europe for giants it's interesting how well shortish Southern Europe does in basketball.

Spain, Argentina and Greece are ranked 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the world respectively. Above all prospective lands of the giants.

Truth said...

"For example there is a law of nature (or at least of Hollywood nature) that says no man is allowed to speak in a movie if he is taller than 6'7"

Well, not...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GfdemcL35A

Truth said...



As usual, Jo, right on the money.

Anonymous said...

“I’ve never found a source actually claiming an average Dutch height of six feet one, besides newspaper articles. I found some claiming 1.84m (6’0.4”) for certain age ranges and found out that the data was self-reported – this implies that measured heights would be about an inch less.”
The article currently cited on Wikipedia is for self reported heights and says the average young Dutchman is 1.84m. I assume this also includes non-ethnic dutch residents in Holland. However, I did see a study by (I believe) van Wieringen which had measured heights: 21 year old ethnic Dutch were 1.84m on the average. This is slightly taller than measured heights for young adults from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, all of whom averaged between 1.82-1.83m. Among other Germanic peoples, height tends to decline as you go south. I haven’t seen measured data for other regions of Germany, but from personal experience, it seems to decline from NW to S. The self reported avg for the whole country is 1.81m, which is close to the measured heights of Bundeswehr conscripts (1.8m). In Austria, the self-reported height is 1.79m and the measured height of conscripts in Switzerland is 1.78m.
“Was this the average height of ethnic Dutch, or the average height of Dutch citizens including those of foreign origin?”
The same research team did a study of the children born in Holland to Turkish and Moroccan immigrants. Their measured heights averaged 1.74m and 1.75, respectively.
"I find it hard to believe they're (Yugoslavs) really that tall."
The 1.86m for the Dinaric Alps is very tall, especially because it is for 17 year olds, so their final height will probably be a bit taller. However, National Health surveys from Croatia and Slovenia show measured heights for young adult males that are tall, but not significantly different than German countries (both Croatia and Slovenia averaged about 1.8m)
Also, a note about secular trends: While people have certainly gotten much taller since the mid 19th C. in industrialized countries, the increase is not as big as some sources make it out to be. For instance, one often hears that the Dutch went from 1.65m to 1.84. However, the 1.65m from the mid 19th C. is for 18 year old conscripts. In the past, due to poor nutrition, most men kept growing until their mid 20s, so the 19th C. conscripts would have had a final height of about 1.7 or 1.71m, as can be seen in other mid-19th C samples of mature individuals in their mid-20s.

realist said...

For instance, one often hears that the Dutch went from 1.65m to 1.84. However, the 1.65m from the mid 19th C. is for 18 year old conscripts. In the past, due to poor nutrition, most men kept growing until their mid 20s, so the 19th C. conscripts would have had a final height of about 1.7 or 1.71m, as can be seen in other mid-19th C samples of mature individuals in their mid-20s.

I wonder if Flynn Effect claims get inflated by the same cause, since they too are mostly from samples who have not fully matured.

Simon said...

"21 year old ethnic Dutch were 1.84m on the average. This is slightly taller than measured heights for young adults from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, all of whom averaged between 1.82-1.83m."

I am very skeptical about all those heights - given that in all years Norway the richest country in Scandinavia has not been able to achieve an average height of over 180cm for its conscripts.

http://www.ssb.no/a/english/aarbok/tab/tab-108.html

Possibly, but unlikely Scandinavian men grow an inch on average in their 20s?

Much more likely you are looking at self reported data.

Also - military services will tend to round up heights or measure in socks to make more people pass BMI standards. Consider military records as more generous measurements than clothing size studies.

The tallest region of Norway Aust-Agder as an average height of 181.1 cm for conscripts who are presumably including very few immigrants. Is it really likely that other nearby countries with more immigrants and a lower GDP have an average height greater than the tallest area of the richest Scandinavian country?