What is considered short versus not short for a woman depends on a few things, including what country or ethnicity the woman is from, and whether you are judging her height by objective research or by, perhaps, unrealistic “beauty” standards.
We’ll explore the answer to this question more thoroughly below.
What Height is Considered Short for a Woman?
Worldwide, any woman below 5 feet 2.79 inches would be below average height. In the U.S., any woman below 5 feet 4.386 inches would be below average (compared to females who were 18 in the year 2014). According to the clothing industry, women under 5 feet 4 inches are “petite.”
Below Average Height for Females Statistically
Where did the above figures come from? Who determines who is short or not? As mentioned, there are actually several definitions and categories that one can look at.
According to a study done in 2013, the average height of women worldwide who were 18 years old in the year 2014 was 159.49 cm, or 5 feet 2.79 inches. According to the same study, the mean height of women in the U.S. in that cohort (18 years old in the year 2014) was 163.54 cm, or 5 feet and 4.386 inches.
By one definition, any woman below this mean would be shorter than average, and so may be considered short.
On the other hand, as with many things, there is a normal distribution. That is to say, there is range that may be technically below the exact average, but still within the range or “normal.”
So, by this definition, women in between the heights of about 5 feet 3 inches to 5 feet 5 inches are squarely within the normal range of distribution according the U.S. census for the years 2007 – 2008.
However, according to this census, women (aged 49 or younger in 2008) who were shorter than 5 feet 3 inches made up less than about 30% of the population, and therefore could generally be considered short even when taking into account a range of “normal.”
Short for Women in Clothing and Fashion
Of course, clothing and fashion have their own standards. Generally, “petite” clothes are designed for women whose height is less than 5 feet and 4 inches. Many decades ago, this would have still been a bit taller than average, however, now it does (barely) mark the below average height for U.S. women.
For women who are considering being a model, however, the standard is vastly different. A female height of at least 5 feet and 9 inches is preferred, with 5 feet 7 inches widely being considered the absolute minimum for most female modeling.
These are both considered quite tall for females. Based on the 2008 U.S. census, females in the 20-29 age group who were at least 5 feet and 7 inches tall made up only 17.7 percent of the U.S. population. Women in that cohort who were at least 5 feet and 9 inches tall made up only 5.9 percent of the U.S. population for that age group.
What is Considered Short for a Woman Based on Nationality?
There is a significant disparity in average height based on the nationality and/or region that the woman is from. At the shortest end, on average, are women from Guatemala, who had an average height of 149.39 cm (4 feet and 10.81 inches) in 1996 followed by Laos at 151.27 cm (4 feet and 11.56 inches).
At the highest end of the spectrum for average height are women from Latvia, who averaged 169.8 cm (5 feet and 6.85 inches), followed by women from the Netherlands who averaged 168.72 cm (5 feet and 6.43 inches).
Shockingly, this is a 20.41 cm, or 8.03 inch, difference between the average height of women from the “shortest” country compared to the average height of women from the “tallest” country!
What is Considered Short for a Woman Based on Ethnicity?
Another variable for average and below average height is race or ethnicity. In December of 2018, the CDC released a report titled the “National Health Statistics Reports,” in which they describe the average heights of several races or ethnicities in the United States across all ages 20 and over.
They found that by the survey year 2015-2016, the average height of Asian women in the U.S. was 61.5 inches (5 feet and 1.5 inches), the average height of Hispanic women in the U.S. was 61.7 inches (5 feet and 1.7 inches), the average height of Black women in the U.S. was 64 inches (5 feet and 4 inches), and the average height of White women in the U.S. was 64.3 inches (5 feet and 4.3 inches).
Women below these heights could be considered short, or at least shorter than average, for their race or ethnicity.
Height of Women over Time
Of course, besides varying from region to region and between different ethnicities, the average height of woman has also shifted over time.
What might be considered short today was average a few decades ago and even tall a few centuries ago.
Scientists estimate that, a little over 100 years ago, in 1896, women shorter than 151.15 cm, or only 4 feet 11.5 inches, were the only ones below the average height of the time, worldwide. This is an 8.39 cm or 3.28 inch difference!
Did height of women always increase over time? Actually, no. Studies show that female human height (in the Eastern Mediterranean) actually decreased from an average height of 166.5 cm (5 feet and 5.55 inches) in 10,000 B.C. to 152.9 cm (5 feet and 1.597 inches) in 2000 B.C., back up to 158 cm (5 feet and 2.2 inches) in the year 400 C.E. It then fell again until about 1896, after which time it increased relatively rapidly to present-day levels.
What is Considered Short for a Female?
In the U.S., being less than 5 feet 4.386 inches for a female would be below average (compared to other females who were 18 in the year 2014). Worldwide, the average is 5 feet 2.79 inches. In women’s clothing, however, under 5 feet 4 inches is considered “petite.”