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Proc Biol Sci. 2015 May 7;282(1806):20150211. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0211.

Does natural selection favour taller stature among the tallest people on earth?

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Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT, UK Department of Sociology, University of Groningen, Grote Rozenstraat 31, Groningen 9712 TG, The Netherlands
Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, 4401 University Drive West, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada T1 K 3M4 Applied Behavioural Ecology and Ecosystems Research Unit, University of South Africa, Private Bag X6 Florida 1710, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Department of Sociology, University of Groningen, Grote Rozenstraat 31, Groningen 9712 TG, The Netherlands.
Nuffield College/Department of Sociology, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UQ, UK.


The Dutch are the tallest people on earth. Over the last 200 years, they have grown 20 cm in height: a rapid rate of increase that points to environmental causes. This secular trend in height is echoed across all Western populations, but came to an end, or at least levelled off, much earlier than in The Netherlands. One possibility, then, is that natural selection acted congruently with these environmentally induced changes to further promote tall stature among the people of the lowlands. Using data from the LifeLines study, which follows a large sample of the population of the north of The Netherlands (n = 94 516), we examined how height was related to measures of reproductive success (as a proxy for fitness). Across three decades (1935-1967), height was consistently related to reproductive output (number of children born and number of surviving children), favouring taller men and average height women. This was despite a later age at first birth for taller individuals. Furthermore, even in this low-mortality population, taller women experienced higher child survival, which contributed positively to their increased reproductive success. Thus, natural selection in addition to good environmental conditions may help explain why the Dutch are so tall.


LifeLines; The Netherlands; fertility; height; natural selection; reproductive success

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