January 8, 2007

Thinking about averages

A reader writes:

I also have the impression that front men are often shorter than the rest of the band, as in RHCP, Dio, Genesis. There may be a correlation with short height and extroversion (maybe only on subracial level, as in Italians are shorter and more extrovert than Swedes)

Btw, I find your reasoning about rock stars' average height very interesting, but also noticed that many many people find this kind of reasoning boring/disturbing/weird. Why?

Good question. Anybody have any thoughts?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

I for one find the discussion of heights of Rock and Country stars to be boring. Perhaps because I am of average height (5'9 1/2), I only tend to think about the heights of other men WRT sports. I think taller men tend to think more about height.

WRT to musicians, I saw two bands live this year, in three places. Never gave much thought to the heights of the frontmen at the time, but thinking back: Ian Astbury of The Cult (saw them in New York and Rio de Janeiro) is tall -- maybe 6'4"+. Still jumps around a hell of a lot, and he's been at this for at least 25 years. The other band, The Beautiful South (yeah, I'd never heard of them either -- my girlfriend's favorite) is led by a somewhat chubby Brit who I guess was about 5'8. Didn't move much at all on stage. Also shared the singing duties with another guy and a girl who may have been an inch taller.

WRT Country, my first thought while reading was that Country might put a premium on masculinity, but then I have seen some CMT videos, and "masculine" or even "straight" isn't the first thing that comes to mind in some of them.

Julian said...


You should do some thinking too about the relative attractiveness of rock women and country women (and maybe folk women). I am constantly amazed at how gorgeous female country singers are (Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks). Rock women tend to be a bit less well presented (Suzi Quatro), and female folk singers have that earnest look (Maddy Prior, Joan Baez). Any thoughts?

If one thinks of musical art as narrative, one could imagine that country women are beautiful women who have had sad experiences, often with men; rock singers have lived hard and sing about that; and folk singers are just too committed to the cause and the artform to worry about superficialities!

Anonymous said...

Nashvillian here.

The reason that so many female country stars are now beautiful is because of CMT being bought out in the late 1980's. When CMT went truly corporate, and videos became the medium that so many fans got to see new acts through, the emphasis on looks by producers and record execs kicked into overdrive.

Some of em' can't sing. You only think they can.

Many of you dont know this, but there are microphones now that are wirelessly hooked up to computers that will change tone before it gets through the speakers. If you want the truth, Tim McGraw does not have a nice voice at all, a limited vocal range, and really does not tune all that well (rumored to be somewhat tone deaf). A couple of people in the biz have told me that about Tim. They also tell me he is a pretty nice guy though, so they are glad to see him succeed. His wife Faith, can sing her butt off.

The gal on "Dancing with the Stars" reportedly does not have a very nice voice in concert (Ive actually heard a local radio personality that used to play with Prince, Mark Christopher, complain about her chops along with another generic hottie. Many of the pretty singers are dissapointing if you see them at "Dancing in the Distric" or some of the other live concert series around town in which their own road crew does not get to pre-plan all the acoustics (just jumpin' on the mike after the last act).

Someone who can really and truly sing (but her ass is a little too wide) is Mandy Barnett. Incredible vocal slides, vibrattos, any note on the scale, could hold the notes, pretty face.......given to slight heaviness. Yearwood has great chops, but you get the same thing-bigger girl. Martina McBride can really sing, I just dont like what she sings. Mr. Sailer is right when he contends that Music Row shoots straight for middle-brow suburban audiences, and he'd also be right if he asserted that they also attempt to market good-looking hand picked singers backed by professional musicians playing safe music usually with two verses insterspersed with two choruses, instrumental section, chorus. Its a formula. All the dangerous acts like the half-hip hop/half country acts and the "tough" southern-rockish acts are only there to reel in the youth. Hardly anybody in the biz listens to that crap in their spare time. People in the business listen to things like Shelby Lynn or Americana that really like music.

One would be right to think of Music Row in Nashville as a factory line and the dreck it has been turning out for 10-15 years now as "product". The destruction of Rock and Roll by Judy McGrath's MTV and the onset of rap is what has made Country surge in my opinion. If there were Beatles, The Who, The Stones, Zeppelin around these days......kids would be into them, not Garth, Big & Rich, or the Dixie Chicks (the Dixie Chicks ARE fabulous musicians, whatever you think of their political statements).

Parting shot: The biggest singer on earth has to be Trace Adkins. He is bigger than 6'6. He has got to be 6'8. He is a huge man.

Another parting shot for Julian.
Julian wrote : "If one thinks of musical art as narrative, one could imagine that country women are beautiful women who have had sad experiences, often with men"--------------Julian my friend, most of those gals probably dont write half their songs. They are writing songs for what the audience wants to hear man. I really dont think too many boys have broken Shania Twains heart (she is tiny in person and exquisitely beautific). The songs are carefully arranged cliche's in most instances that are arranged to rhyme to lap steel guitars, mid-tempo arrangements, etc. There are singers that write from pain and experience however, you might find them on alt. country or Americana. Tift Merritt, Maria Mckee (great great talent there), Lucinda Williams etc.

Julian said...

Thanks, Nashvillian. Very interesting. But I did say "narrative", as in telling a story.

Anonymous said...

A more interesting and important question is why Dutch men are four inches taller than white American men.

"Then something strange happened. While heights in Europe continued to climb, Komlos said, “the U.S. just went flat.” In the First World War, the average American soldier was still two inches taller than the average German. But sometime around 1955 the situation began to reverse. The Germans and other Europeans went on to grow an extra two centimetres a decade, and some Asian populations several times more, yet Americans haven’t grown taller in fifty years. By now, even the Japanese—once the shortest industrialized people on earth—have nearly caught up with us, and Northern Europeans are three inches taller and rising."

"The obvious answer would seem to be immigration. The more Mexicans and Chinese there are in the United States, the shorter the American population becomes. But the height statistics that Komlos cites include only native-born Americans who speak English at home, and he is careful to screen out people of Asian and Hispanic descent. In any case, according to Richard Steckel, who has also analyzed American heights, the United States takes in too few immigrants to account for the disparity with Northern Europe."


Steve Sailer said...

Clearly, average height in the U.S. is not growing as fast as in the Netherlands or in the U.S. in the past. The question I have is which is anomalous today -- fairly stable America or fast-growing Holland? What's happening to height in Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, England, and Germany? The New Yorker article claimed that increase in Dutch height proves the superiority of the Dutch public health insurance sytem over the American private health insurance system. But, I'd be more persuaded if he had showed that height was also shooting up in nearby European countries with similar health systems.

Anonymous said...

A few more thoughts on Country, from someone who isn't a huge fan or expert:

- That video about asses where Trace Adkins is wearing that t-shirt two sizes too small -- my girlfriend and I joked that a gay stylist put him up to that. Maybe straight men dress that way in the South, but in New York that look is owned by gay men.

- One Country singer who looks like she can really sing (Nashville guy, feel free to correct me on this) is Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland.

- Also, regarding singers singing from "pain and experience", the best Country song I heard in the last couple of years was Gary Allan's "Best I Ever Had". Interestingly, it's a cover of an alt rock song by Vertical Horizon, but Allan seems to bring his own pain (of his wife's suicide) to the song.


Anonymous said...

I know it's off-topic, but any of you watching this game? Anyone think OSU's going to yank their Heisman-winning QB? He's really stinking things up.

This game so far is a great argument for a D-1 playoff.


Anonymous said...

Re the heights cited by Komlos: I'm an American who has lived, worked and studied in the UK and Germany and traveled in the Netherlands in the late 90s and through 2005. I read the New Yorker article and the 4 inch figure cited by Komlos struck me as utter BS. Germans and Dutch did strike me as taller than US whites on average, but not extraordinarily so. The Brits struck me as being about the same. Therefore, I decided to look up the averages on line at various governmental statistical agency websites (e.g., NCHS, Eurostat, German and Japanese statistical agencies). Here's what I found for the average height of young adult males from between 1996 and 2005 - note there appears to have been no significant upward trend in the countries below over those years for which more than one data point year is available:

Non-hispanic white Americans: 178.2 cm
Germans: 180.2 cm
Dutch: 182.4 cm
UK: 178.2 cm
Japan: 170.8 cm

From the above, I would not describe young Japanese as "nearly as tall as their white American counterparts" (7.4 cm shorter).

As to why Americans whites are a little shorter than their Northern Europeans, it could be environmental, as the politically correct, all-differences must be environmental Komlos asserts, but I would not be surprised if the differences also have a genetic component. Looking at data for the EU nations, plus any other European Country I could find, I noticed that young males from the Germanic (e.g., Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, etc.), Slavic (Czechs, Croatians), and Baltic (e.g. Latvia, Lithuania) speaking countries all seem to be around the 179-182 cm mark when nutrition is adequate. The Romance language speaking countries (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc.) seem to be in the 174-177 cm range. The average heights of young males in the UK and Ireland are 178 cm and 177 cm, respectively. Hence there appears to be a Northern-Eastern/Southern-Western stature divide in Europe. I have no idea if I am correct, but, an idea struck me: Research on Mitochondrial DNA and Y Chromosome Haplotypes shows that the bulk of Europeans' genetic ancestry (about 80%) comes from Stone Age hunter gatherers (as opposed to neolithic Middle Eastern farmers) that retreated to refuges in the Eastern Balkans, the Ukraine, and Spain/Southern France during the last glacial maximum. After the ice receded, Europe was resettled from these 3 refuges. Lines from all three refuges contribute to the makeup of almost all European populations, but there respective contributions tends to diminish the further one goes from thier source. The bulk of the ancestry in Germanic, Slavic, and Baltic populations appears to come from people spreading out from the eastern Balkan and Ukranian refuges whereas the bulk of Western European paternal and maternal lines appear to come from the Iberian/Sourthern French refuge. Assumeing that Y Chromosome and mitochondrial DNA types gives a good estimate for the origin of the rest of the genome, one would expect to see genetic differences (perhaps including those effecting stature)along these lines. Re the UK and Ireland, even though they speak Germanic languages today, according to the research presented in 2 recent books (the Origins of the the British by Stephen Oppenheimer and Blood of the Isles by Bryan Sykes), the bulk of the ancestry of the the inhabitants of the British Isles comes from the Iberian/Southern French refuge as does that for South-western Europe (the Romance speaking countries). Hence I wonder if populations descending predominately from the more easterly ice age refuges are by some genetic quirk (or perhaps natural selection) predisposed to be slightly taller on average given good nutritional conditions than populations predominately descended from the inhabitants of the Iberian/Southern French refuge? If this is the case, given the substantial British, Irish, Italian, and to a lesser extent, French component in the ancestry of the US white population, one would expect it in aggregate to be shorter on average than say Germans, Dutch, or Czechs. To test this, it would be interesting to know what the average height is for white Minnesotans (which one would expect to be similar to Northern Europe given the overwhelminly German and Scandinavian ancestry of the white population there).

Anonymous said...

What about the impact of immigration on average heights in the Netherlands? Isn't Amsterdam now a third Muslim? Certainly some Middle Eastern Muslims are tall (e.g., Osama bin Laden is 6'6") -- could they be skewing heights higher among the Dutch?


David Hume said...

(Apologies for the cross posting.)

BTW I don't find Steve's reasoning here boring or weird — I just think that it's wrong, wrong, wrong.

Take out all the British born rock stars and do the calculation of average height again. There will still be a difference that warrants explanation but it won't be the huge gap that you have now.

The comments here are otherwise very interesting — but for god's sake, can't you guys see the sillininess of all posting under the name anonymous. Pick a name! Here is your big chance to be 'Gothfroth2010'.

Anonymous said...

Re the Middle Eastern Influence on Dutch Height. I can't believe that it could be skewing Dutch values upward. I've been to Holland, and while the ethnic Dutch strike me as tall, the young adult Turks and Arabs from there are not tall at all. They strike me as being shorter on average than American or British whites for instance. In fact, I can't believe the figure of 182 or 183 cm for the average height of young Dutch males if you count all the non-ethnic Dutch floating about Holland into the average. I always assumed that stats must have just been for ethnic Dutch. I remember walking around Amsterdam and seeing throngs of dark complected Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian looking people and then you'd see blond haired Dutchmen towering head and shoulders above them. I also seem to remember reading in some article on Dutch height that ethnic Dutch worn something like 7 or 9 cm taller than Dutch born children of Middle Eastern immigrants.

Steve Sailer said...

My vague impression is that a lot of European statistics just ignore their immigrants.

Steve Sailer said...

Anthropologist Carleton Coon wrote in 1965 that the tallest people in Europe are found where it gets quite cold in winter, but not quite Russian or Lapland frigid.

The Baltics and the Balkans have long tended to have very tall people, even though they haven't been as prosperous as, say, France. The fine Olympic basketball performances by Lithuanian and Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Serbia reflect this.

rocknrollposter said...

Steve I think you may be overestimating the success of the Balkan and Baltic basketball teams, and neglecting the cultural reasons for their marginal levels of success.

Serbia, Croatia, Lithuania are not any better at basketball than Spain, Greece, or Italy, nor even the Argentines who are overwhelmingly of Spanish and Italian descent. It seems you are putting too much stock in small height differences between very large populations. Currently, the biggest foreign stars in the are Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Andres Nocioni to name a few, though there are a few notable Eastern European players. Let's not forget Steve Nash back-to-back NBA, and the most exciting and creative player in the league for that matter. Basketball after all is a sport, and skills and facets of the game are external and need to be practiced to excell. I've always thought your articles on race and sports veered too close to a kind of genetic determinism. Consider for instance that the greatest hockey player ever (Gretzsky) and perhaps the greatest football player (Montana) were nowhere close to being at the top of any size, strength, or speed ranking. They were the best because they had the skills and savvy.

As for European basketball teams the Balkan and Baltic countries have a different sporting culture than Western Europe. None of the Balkan countries have ever come close to winning the only sporting prize that really matters to Europeans- the World Cup. Italy, Germany, France, and England have won world cups, with the Italians and Germans being historically very dominant in the sport. Also, none of those Balkan or Baltic countries excell at hockey. Most of the hockey players who make it big come from Sweden, Czech/Slovakia, and Russia. Without major stars in soccer or hockey their basketball successes look even less impressive. That leaves these Balkan/ Baltic countries with an absence of success in any of these major sports. Of course the Soviets may well be to blame for a lot of that, but we'll see what ends up happening.

Simon said...

I think the reason why Americans are no longer particularly tall is that Europeans now have adequate nutrition, as noted. American men are still substantially broader, though - not just fat, even just lean muscle. I don't know if it's the steroids in your beef or doing weights at the gymn, but it's noticeable.

Non-hispanic white Americans: 178.2 cm
Germans: 180.2 cm
Dutch: 182.4 cm
UK: 178.2 cm
Japan: 170.8 cm

Genetically, white Americans are mostly British-isles, with a decent chunk of German and a smaller mix of Italian & other European. One would expect that if nutrition were equal, Americans would be similar to Brits. The blond Germanic peoples are noticeably taller - Dutch the most, but north Germans & Scandinavians also. South Germans are racially Alpine, and not as tall, which probably brings median all-Germany height down a couple cm - check out Munich (south) & Hamburg (north) to see the difference.

Thursday said...

In my experience, Dutch women tend to be rather stocky. Oh but what lovely blue eyes and lovely blond hair.

Thursday said...

Despite their height, I haven't heard of the Dutch doing all that well at basketball. They do love volleyball though. They even have a professional league for it.

Tim said...

You put the short guys up the front because if they were in the back no one could see them.


Presumably this sort of thing has been done to folks ever since they were in kindergarten. So maybe the practice reinforces whatever psychological tendencies there may to be front men and backsters anyway. Run this over years and years and the filtering effect would give an MTV meaningful result!!

Tim said...


r.e. carleton coon and tall europeans

this observation contradicts the situation with the inuit and the somalis. physics would imply that a small rounded body would have less surface area and presumably survive colder conditions than a tall thin body.

so the inuit, and polynesians, would seem to conform with the surface area argument. pacific islanders migrated from island to island with those best able to cope with the cold ocean trip conditions outsurviving others.

of course pygmy like stature would be an advantage in heavily forrested tropical conditions and there is evidence of pygmy and negrito peoples from central africa to the philippines and beyond. but then again you get the San Bushmen, Africa's second shortest people, and they seem to have been in the Kalahari for something like 30,000 years, maybe 100,000.

so maybe whatever physical factor may foster human variation, the maintenance and continuity of those diverse phenotypes, is a matter of sexual selection.

James Kabala said...

I thought I should mention the Small Faces, the 1960s English band who were all 5'6" or shorter. When the original lineup broke up and the (slightly) taller Rod Stewart and Ron Wood joined, they changed their name to the Faces.

Anonymous said...

Who the heck is RHCP?


misospecial said...

Interesting topic, but some of the assumptions about differences between rockers and country singers seem naive: Last time I checked, rock stars weren't the only ones with a weakness for sex and drugs (and booze).

Also, accounting for the height difference by nationality (rock=Brit, country=Yank) ignores the fact that the British invasion ended a long time ago, and the U.S. has been cranking out its own tiny terrors for a very long time . . . How big was Bill Haley (just wondering)? And let's not forget Blue Oyster Cult. The Mighty Midgets, if I remember correctly, all came in under 5'6".

Lastly, more than one comment has equated a lack of height with a lack of length. I don't have any statistics on this, but hazard a guess that often when it is true, the affected gent makes up in passion (think of yr frontmen) what he lacks in frontage.