What Do Norwegian People Look Like?

The stereotypical Norwegian is a tall blonde with blue eyes, a narrow nose, and high cheekbones. But is this picture accurate or misleading? More importantly, what is it based on, and what does it leave out?

A relatively high percentage of Norwegians have light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. They are taller on average than people from most other countries and have smaller noses and thinner hair. The stereotype has significant gaps and has served racist science and politics in the past.

This article discusses the data behind some of these perceptions. It also qualifies its findings by pointing to significant populations that do not share such traits and explains some of the dangers of oversimplification. 

Also, see Why Do Some People Call Norwegians Squareheads? to learn more.

Unique Physical Traits of Norwegians

Like the other Scandinavian populations, Norwegians are among the most ethnically homogenous people in the world today. [1]

However, there is some dispute about the exact prehistoric cultures Norwegians derive their DNA from.

Earlier, it was believed that most Scandinavians descended from the waves of hunter-gatherers who populated the region beginning 14,000 years ago. 

More recently, genetic studies have shown that most present-day Scandinavians are the descendants of the first agriculturalists to migrate to Scandinavia (between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago). [2]

On the other hand, archeological studies have claimed that the two populations may have mixed. [3]

Whatever the case, it is likely that the genetic profile most Norwegians owe their physical traits to was fully established in the region as early as 4,000 years ago. [4]

This widely shared genetic ancestry provides a solid material basis for many of the caricatures of the physical traits of Norwegians.

At the same time, it is also important to note that some of these traits are of more recent origin. The famed Scandinavian stature, for instance. [5]

And, as will be discussed later, more dramatic changes to the Norwegian gene pool are ongoing.

A Preponderance of Light skin

The first Scandinavian people – known as the Western Hunter-Gatherers – were dark-skinned.

However, with the arrival of farming communities from the south, the skin color of Scandinavians became progressively lighter over the centuries.

Today, as with most northern Germanic peoples, the vast majority of Norwegians have pale skin. [6]

Not All Norwegians Have Light Skin

Norway does have significant ethnic minorities, many of whom do not share similar genetics and physical traits as the majority of Scandinavian populations. 

Although the most recently available data shows that over 15% of the Norwegian population is now made up of immigrants, the vast majority of these new arrivals are from Norway’s Nordic neighbors and other northern European nations. [7]

Still, no fewer than 156,339 Norwegians (8.3% of the population) were born to immigrants from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania (excluding Australia and New Zealand), and Europe (excluding the EU, EEA, and the UK). [8] Many such Norwegians will likely not be light-skinned.

A High Incidence of Thin Blonde hair

Blonde hair is relatively rare in nature, although it is more common among Europeans and most common among northern Europeans. [9] [10]

This explains why Norway has one of the largest populations of any nation with blonde hair

By some accounts, 50-79% of Norwegians have blonde hair, and the figure is above 80% in specific regions.

Genetic studies have also established a link between the low incidence of EDAR 1540T/C – a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in ancestral Scandinavian DNA – and reduced hair thickness.

So, Norwegian hair is likely thinner than Native American and East Asian hair. [11]

Not All Norwegians Have Blonde Hair

The same caveats attached to describing Norwegians as light-skinned apply here too. 

Additionally, the Sami people, a significant indigenous Norwegian minority, are of heterogeneous genetic origin. Over 40,000 Sami people live in Norway. [12] 

Their ancestry, which includes genetic contributions from Eastern Europe and Asia, means that Sami people mostly have black hair. [13] 

Relatively High Rates of Blue Eyes

Like blonde hair, blue eyes are relatively rare in people. The simple genetic explanation for this is that brown-eyed people may carry genes for both blue and brown eyes, whereas blue-eyed people only carry genes for blue eyes.

With 55% of people having blue eyes, a significantly large number of Norwegians do indeed have blue eyes. [14] Self-evidently, 45% do not have blue eyes – a substantial number by any measure.

Norwegians Are Among the World’s Tallest People

Based on a study that analyzed the heights of 18.6 million participants from 200 countries, Norwegians are among the tallest people in the world. Norwegian men ranked 13th on the list and women 19th. [15] 

As noted earlier, this hasn’t always been the case. The study mentioned above explains that although height is one of the most heritable genetic traits, non-genetic environmental factors play a role.

Maternal health, childhood nutrition, and early-life illnesses all influence the mean height of a population. [16]

Such non-genetic influences explain why more prosperous nations are, on average, taller than poorer nations.

Narrow Noses

Norwegians, like many ethnically Scandinavian people, also have narrower noses. Their smaller-sized noses are most likely an adaptation to living in a cold and dry climate. [17]

Like other physical traits listed here, their universality is likely greatly exaggerated.

The Dangers of Stereotyping

There are several pitfalls to taking the information listed in this article and universalizing it. 

Exclusion Based on Misinformation 

As mentioned earlier, over 15% of the Norwegian population comprises immigrants. 8.3% of the country’s newest citizens are born to immigrants from Asia, Africa, and other ethnically distinct regions.

These figures suggest rapidly transforming ethnic demographics

Moreover, the Sami people, a significant indigenous Norwegian minority, are genetically distinct from ethnic Scandinavians. 

Communications based on the assumption that the average Norwegian is tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and pale-skinned exclude most or all of these people.  

Xenophobic and Racialized Science and Politics

In the worst instances, exclusions get transformed into xenophobic and racist politics. It leads to actions that dispossess people of their property and rights and leads to violence against them.

The idea that exclusions lead to dispossession or violence is not just conjecture; it has happened relatively recently. 

Eugenicists helped pave the way for later Nazi actions. And Norwegian scientists and the idea of a Nordic master race played a role in it. [18]

And some of the things early historiographers wrote about the Sami seem plain idiotic now. [19] But they also led to real consequences for the nomadic Sami.

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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