Tallest Men Come From Here: Countries With the Biggest Male Height Gains

Over the past century, men around the world have grown taller on average. But some countries have seen much greater gains in average male height than others. Analyzing data from 1896 to 1996, the countries with the largest increases in mean male height are Iran (+16.5cm; +11%); Greenland (+15.4cm; +10%); South Korea (+15.2cm; +9%); and Japan (+14.7cm; +9%).

Out of these top gainers, Japan’s increase of nearly 15 centimeters stands out. Japanese men born in 1996 average 171 centimeters tall, compared to only 156 cm a century earlier. This remarkable height gain of 9% reflects major improvements in health and nutrition standards over this period.

Spain and Portugal also saw men grow around 14 centimeters taller on average. Greece (+14.8cm; +9%), Belgium (+14.5cm; +9%), and Turkey (+13.9cm; +9%) round out the top gainers where men grew over 13 centimeters.

Most Height Change

For context, the United States saw moderate gains of +6 cm (+4%) between 1896 and 1996. So Japan’s growth in height outpaced the United States by more than double.

What explains this rapid increase in Japanese heights over the 20th century? Like other developed countries, Japan saw substantial economic growth during this period. Rising prosperity enabled major health improvements, including better sanitation infrastructure and nutrition standards. Childhood disease incidence and mortality plummeted, while life expectancy surged. These trends allowed Japanese people to grow taller and reach their genetic height potential.

However, analysts note Japan’s height gain has recently stagnated. The prosperous population may have reached the limits of average height for Japanese genetics and lifestyles. Still, the gain of nearly 15 cm over the 20th century remains an exceptional achievement. It reflects how rising standards of living translate into tangible biological outcomes over time.

Tallest Men Countries

Beyond the top gainers in Asia and Europe, modest height increases occurred in North America (+6 to 8cm) and Oceania (+5 to 7cm). Though trailing top performers, these relatively small gains still translated into better health for these prosperous regions.

Height By Region

Meanwhile, other developing regions have greater room for progress. Male heights in Africa and South Asia grew only 3 to 5 percent on average. As these populations lift themselves economically, we can expect their heights to further catch up with developed world standards over this century. Though genetic potential differs across populations, there remains universality in how socioeconomic progress enables human growth.

Data Source: ourworldindata

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