Friday, August 17, 2007

I'm not as short as I think I am

I didn't think about it much, but I guess I always assumed that Americans were pretty tall, on average. If I had to have guessed, I'd have said that we were taller than most Asian countries, and probably shorter than folks in Scandinavia. Strangely enough, I would be right today (more or less) but not in the not-so-far past. As Frank Deford mentioned on Morning Edition last Wednesday, apparently Americans actually used to be the tallest country in the world, but the winner now is Holland (followed by Denmark).

American Average height (for men) = 5'10''
Dutch Average height (for men) = 6'1"

Considering that my minimum bar for men I date is 6 ft (yes, I've broken it a few times, but that's the goal) I guess if I were still single I'd head on over to Amsterdam and see if I could get a guy to buy me some tulips.

I did a bit of web research on this and came across some (completely unsubstantiated) fun facts:
  • About 100 years ago, 25% of men who attempted to join the army in Holland were rejected as being too short, less than 62 inches tall
  • In recent years, the Dutch have had to make changes to building codes in order to provide taller door frames

But what I thought was most interesting were the possible reasons for Holland and Denmark having such tall people. My assumption was that it was just good genetics, but apparently what's really key is that wealth is spread more evenly in Scandinavia (thanks to the 60%+ tax rate, I guess) so on average more people are well nourished and able to get to their maximum genetic heights, whereas in the US there are more pockets of malnourished people who bring down our average.

And since taller people tend to earn more money, I now propose a new political platform for one of the many conservative presidential candidates to adopt: up the money we put into food stamps, and America gets taller (and richer). I think it's a winner.*

* Yes, I do realize it's also completely circular in that people who are taller make more money (according to the linked article) because they are better nourished because their parents are smarter and make more money and pass on good IQ points but still...maybe the Republicans won't figure that out. (Read Freakonomics for a similar experiment giving books to every kid in the hopes they'd be smarter too.)

1 comment:

Noemi said...

There was a great article on this in the New Yorker not too long ago. I was particularly interested because my husband and I took physicals for the first time, side by side for our life insurance policy. He is shorter than he had believed he was and it turns out that I'm taller than I thought I was. I still giggle to think of it. A difference of an inch, either way, really changes the way you view yourself in the world.