Why Are Scandinavian Women So Tall?

Blond woman sitting overlooking mountains main

Scandinavia is a region in Northern Europe. It includes the countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. The Netherlands (the Dutch) is not a part of Scandinavia. The Dutch have the tallest people today but Scandinavian countries are among the top ten and twenty tallest countries. They are tall because of genes, a good diet and lifestyle. Also, we consider them tall because of our cultural beliefs about Scandinavian women.  

One of my favorite movies is The Farmer’s Daughter.  The movie concerns a Swedish-American woman whose folk wisdom helps her to win congressional office. She has three tall dominating brothers.  One is played by the actor who for twenty years played Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke.  

Scandinavians are known as light-skinned, blue-eyed, taciturn, and very tall.  What would explain their height? Why do their women particularly have such a reputation for being so tall?  

What Is Scandinavia?

Scandinavia is a region in Northern Europe. It includes the countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.  The region also sometimes includes Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

We have learned that people in the region tend to have blonde hair and blue eyes. They also are less hairy than some fellow Europeans.  How tall are they? 

Vikings: Scandinavians But Not Too Tall

Vikings came from Scandinavia and were earlier settlers of North America.  They were a bit scary too.  The word “berserk” originated with their fierce warriors.  

But, Vikings were not that tall.  An Arab traveler reported that the people who were ancestors of modern-day Russians were “as tall as a date palm, blond and ruddy.”  Vikings?  Not so much.

How Tall Are Scandinavians? 

The country with the tallest people today is the Netherlands.  

The Netherlands (“the Dutch”) is part of Northern Europe, and in various ways, the people look and act like Scandinavians.  It is a bit confusing.  But, the country is not part of Scandinavia.  

Scandinavia’s reputation as a region with tall people is not imaginary. The countries of Denmark, Finland, and Iceland are on the list of the top ten tallest countries. Norway and Sweden are lower, but still in the top twenty.  The United States is down at around 40.  

Why So Tall?  

[1]  Genes

Genetics plays a major role in the physical traits associated with Scandinavians.  

We talked about the fact that Asians are shorter than their European neighbors. This was largely a result of natural selection.  Asians benefited from being shorter. 

Natural selection involves certain traits that are successfully passed along to descendants over a long span of time.   Height is beneficial to surviving in the colder Scandinavian climate.  

[2] Tall Gene Pool Not Decreased 

Scandinavia is also generally more homogenous.  It was and still is less subject to intermixing of various types of people.  Iceland, for instance, is isolated.  

A major reason humans have a mixture of traits is because of migration and intermarriage. Scandinavians are less likely to marry and have children with non-Scandinavians or at least people who are tall like them.  Tall people in the past and now are attractive to them. 

Tall people, including tall women, in Scandinavia won the natural selection game. And, the tall gene pool was not decreased by Scandinavians often having children with less tall people.  

[3]  Good Diet 

Genes play an important part in how our bodies develop.

Nonetheless, other factors also influence things. For instance, the Chinese traditionally found very small feet in women very endearing.  It was an important status symbol. So, there was a painful and harmful tradition of binding feet from an early age. This stunted growth. 

Height also is influenced by non-genetic factors.  One important factor in height is diet, especially as children grow up.  Bad diets and those with less protein equal smaller populations. 

The availability of high-protein foods has influenced the average height of Northern Europeans.  The Netherlands is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of cheese and milk. 

[4] Lifestyle

Scandinavians promote a healthy lifestyle.  Exercise is important, smoking is disfavored, and healthcare is a big concern.  Government health care is generously provided.  

Low pollution also helps.  Pollution is known to stunt growth. Clean air and water help to keep people healthy and allow them to reach their full height potential.

[5] Reputation 

The reputation of tall Scandivanian women stands out even more than the number of tall women.  For instance, Polish women are taller on average than Swedish women.  But, do Polish women have a reputation as tall? Not as much as tall, blue-eyed blonde Swedes!  

One report colorfully noted that “Iceland is the best place to have a uterus.”  Scandivanians are among the happiest and healthiest on the earth. Height is associated with better health, attractiveness, better education, and higher income.  

Scandinavian women are on average taller than many people in the world.  Nonetheless, we consider them tall partially for cultural reasons. They are our ideal women.  

Modern Day Vikings 

Height can lead to various problems, including higher blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and a higher likelihood of cancer.  Being short has some benefits.  

Still, tall Scaninavia women are prized.  Vikings had various fewer benefits than modern-day Scandinavians, including a less healthy diet and lifestyle. The Danes even have a word for a comfortable cozy lifestyle (hygge).  They are quite the opposite of the “berserk” Vikings.  Happiness, not height alone, is an ideal goal.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.