Height trends are interesting to refer to when trying to think about the Flynn Effect of changes in raw IQ scores over time. Here’s a 2016 meta-analysis of 1472 studies of height by country and by sex. They built a model to estimate adult heights of people born in 1896 to 1996.
NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD-RisC)
James Bentham and Majid Ezzati
We estimated that people born in 1896 were shortest in Asia and in Central and Andean Latin America (Figure 1 and Figure 2).
The 1896 male birth cohort on average measured only 152.9 cm (credible interval 147.9–157.9) in Laos, which is the same as a well-nourished 12.5-year boy according to international growth standards (de Onis et al., 2007), followed by Timor-Leste and Guatemala. Women born in the same year in Guatemala were on average 140.3 cm (135.8– 144.8), the same as a well-nourished 10-year girl. El Salvador, Peru, Bangladesh, South Korea and Japan had the next shortest women.
The tallest populations a century ago lived in Central and Northern Europe, North America and some Pacific islands. The height of men born in Sweden, Norway and the USA surpassed 171 cm, ~18–19 cm taller than men in Laos. Swedish women, with average adult height of 160.3 cm (158.2–162.4), were the tallest a century ago and 20 cm taller than women in Guatemala. Women were also taller than 158 cm in Norway, Iceland, the USA and American Samoa.
Changes in adult height over the century of analysis varied drastically across countries. Notably, although the large increases in European men’s heights in the 19th and 20th century have been highlighted, we found that the largest gains since the 1896 birth cohort occurred in South Korean women and Iranian men, who became 20.2 cm (17.5–22.7) and 16.5 cm (13.3–19.7) taller, respec- tively (Figure 3, Figure 4 and Figure 5). As a result, South Korean women moved from the fifth shortest to the top tertile of tallest women in the world over the course of a century. Men in South Korea also had large gains relative to other countries, by 15.2 cm (12.3–18.1).
There were also large gains in height in Japan, Greenland, some countries in Southern Europe (e.g., Greece) and Central Europe (e.g., Serbia and Poland, and for women Czech Republic).
In contrast, there was little gain in height in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
The pace of growth in height has not been uniform over the past century. The impressive rise in height in Japan stopped in people born after the early 1960s (Figure 6). In South Korea, the flatten- ing began in the cohorts born in the 1980s for men and it may have just begun in women. As a result, South Korean men and women are now taller than their Japanese counterparts. The rise is continuing in other East and Southeast Asian countries like China and Thailand, with Chinese men and women having surpassed the Japanese (but not yet as tall as South Koreans). The rise in adult height also seems to have plateaued in South Asian countries like Bangladesh and India at much lower levels than in East Asia, e.g., 5–10 cm shorter than it did in Japan and South Korea.
There were also variations in the time course of height change across high-income western countries, with height increase having plateaued in Northern European countries like Finland and in English-speaking countries like the UK for 2–3 decades (Larnkaer et al., 2006), followed by Eastern Europe (Figure 7). The earliest of these occurred in the USA, which was one of the tallest nations a century ago but has now fallen behind its European counterparts after having had the smallest gain in height of any high-income country (Tanner, 1981; Komlos and Lau- derdale, 2007; Komlos and Baur, 2004; Sokoloff and Villaflor, 1982).
In contrast, height is still increasing in some Southern European countries (e.g., Spain), and in many countries in Latin America. As an exception to the steady gains in most countries, adult height decreased or at best remained the same in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa for cohorts born after the early 1960s, by around 5 cm from its peak in some countries (see for example Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Uganda in Figure 8). More recently, the same seems to have happened for men, but not women, in some countries in Central Asia (e.g., Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan) and Middle East and North Africa (e.g., Egypt and Yemen), whereas in others (e.g., Iran) both sexes continue to grow taller.
Men born in 1996 surpass average heights of 181 cm in the Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia, Latvia and Denmark, with Dutch men, at 182.5 cm (180.6–184.5), the tallest people on the planet. The gap with the shortest countries – Timor-Leste, Yemen and Laos, where men are only ~160 cm tall – is 22– 23 cm, an increase of ~4 cm on the global gap in the 1896 birth cohort. Australia was the only non-European country where men born in 1996 were among the 25 tallest in the world.
Women born in 1996 are shortest in Guatemala, with an average height of 149.4 cm (148.0–150.8), and are shorter than 151 cm in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Nepal. The tallest women live in Latvia, the Netherlands, Estonia and Czech Republic, with average height surpassing 168 cm, creating a 20 cm global gap in women’s height (Figure 5).
Male and female heights were correlated across countries in 1896 as well as in 1996. Men were taller than women in every country, on average by ~11 cm in the 1896 birth cohort and ~12 cm in the 1996 birth cohort (Figure 9). In the 1896 birth cohort, the male-female height gap in countries where average height was low was slightly larger than in taller nations. In other words, at the turn of the 20th century, men seem to have had a relative advantage over women in undernourished compared to better-nourished populations.
A century later, the male-female height gap is about the same throughout the height range. Changes in male and female heights over the century of analysis were also correlated, which is in contrast to low correlation between changes in male and female
And here’s another conversion table:
4 feet 7 inches 139.7
4 feet 8 inches 142.2
4 feet 9 inches 144.8
4 feet 10 inches 147.3
4 feet 11 inches 149.9
5 feet 0 inches 152.4
5 feet 1 inches 154.9
5 feet 2 inches 157.5
5 feet 3 inches 160.0
5 feet 4 inches 162.6
5 feet 5 inches 165.1
5 feet 6 inches 167.6
5 feet 7 inches 170.2
5 feet 8 inches 172.7
5 feet 9 inches 175.3
5 feet 10 inches 177.8
5 feet 11 inches 180.3
6 feet 0 inches 182.9
6 feet 1 inches 185.4
6 feet 2 inches 188.0
6 feet 3 inches 190.5
6 feet 4 inches 193.0
6 feet 5 inches 195.6
6 feet 6 inches 198.1