Average Waist Size for Men & Women

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: September 27, 2022

The size of your waist directly indicates your overall health and fitness. A small waist is a symbol of being in good shape. Whereas a large waistline generally means you’re overweight or obese.

But how do you know what your waist size should be? To answer that question, I’ve put together average waist size statistics for men and women by age, ethnicity, and even fitness level.

So read on to learn your ideal waist size for optimal health and attractiveness.

Average Waist Size Women Men

Data Collection Methods

This article refers to waist circumference measurements obtained from NHANES and U.S. Army Anthropometric Reports. With my engineering and statistical analysis background, I have compiled the numbers into tables and charts that are easier to understand.

Furthermore, as a certified fitness coach, I explain how these measurements relate to your overall health and fitness.

Why Is Waist Size Important?

Some people might associate knowing your waist size with finding jeans that fit. But this measurement has implications beyond the perfect pair of pants.

For example, many studies look at waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio as an assessment of risk for disease and mortality. The idea is that increased abdominal fat leads to a higher risk of heart issues and metabolic disorders.

Specifically, researchers suggest that waist circumference is better than body mass index (BMI) for predicting cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes1,2.

To illustrate, the charts below show the relative risk for type II diabetes in men and women. The lighter blue boxes show how your risk for diabetes is less with a smaller waist size, even if your BMI isn’t super low.

Average Waist Size Men Diabetes Risk Chart
Average Waist Size Women Diabetes Risk Chart

Average Waist Size Factors

First, women tend to have smaller waists with wider hips to facilitate childbirth. In contrast, men have more linear waists and hips but tend to store fat in the belly, leading to a larger waistline.

In addition, your age can play a role in waist size because younger people usually have thinner waists than older people. This difference is due to changes in activity level, diet, and metabolism as we age.

Finally, your waist size can depend on your ethnic background because some people are genetically predisposed to storing fat in the midsection.

Factors That Effect Waist Size
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Ethnicity

How to Measure Waist Size

Waist size is measured as the circumference around your abdomen. And the measurement is taken using a flexible measuring tape, also called a tailor’s tape.

Before measuring your waist size, knowing where to take the measurement, how to use the measuring tape, and how to position your body while measuring is vital.

Placement of Tape

First, you need to know what part of your waist to take the measurement. Because your waist size likely varies from top to bottom, which could affect your measurement.

Several institutions, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute of Health (NIH), recommend measuring waist circumference at the top of the iliac crest3. In layman’s terms, that means measuring your waistline above the top of your hip bone.

Average Waist Size Measurement

Tightness of Tape

An accurate waist measurement depends on the tightness of the measuring tape against your body. And ensuring you keep the tape perfectly horizontal (parallel to the floor) while taking the measurement.

You want the tape to be snug against your body during the measurement. But not so tight that it is constricting or indenting into your waist. Also, be sure you’re using a tape measure that won’t stretch when pulled snug.

Posture During Measurement

Finally, you should measure your waist while standing with your body weight evenly distributed on both feet. And you should take the reading at the end of a normal exhale when your lungs are empty but do not suck your waist in.

Lastly, measuring your waist first thing in the morning after fasting is a good idea to reduce the influence of a large meal.

Average Waist Size for Men & Women

According to the 2015-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the average waist size for men is 40.2 inches (102.1 cm). While the average waist size for women is 38.6 inches (98 cm).

I’ve also collected data from the 1999-2000 NHANE survey for waist size percentiles. Table 1 shows how likely you are to have a certain waist circumference, although you must remember that waist sizes were slightly smaller on average back then.

Table 1. Waist Size Percentiles Men & Women

  Men Women
  inches cm inches cm
1st 27.8 70.7 25.4 64.4
5th 30.0 76.2 27.8 70.5
10th 31.6 80.3 28.9 73.3
15th 32.8 83.4 30.0 76.1
20th 33.9 86.1 30.7 78.0
25th 34.8 88.3 31.6 80.3
40th 36.9 93.8 33.9 86.0
50th 38.2 97.1 35.6 90.3
60th 39.6 100.6 37.2 94.6
75th 42.2 107.3 40.3 102.4
80th 43.4 110.2 41.5 105.5
85th 44.8 113.7 42.8 108.8
90th 46.4 117.9 44.7 113.6
95th 49.5 125.8 47.6 120.8
99th 56.2 142.8 53.8 136.6

In addition, I broke the waist size data into tertiles (three parts) to establish size categories. These represent waist circumferences in the 1st-33rd, 33rd-66th, and 66th-99th percentiles.

The table below makes it easier to tell what is considered a small, medium, or large waist for men and women.

Table 2. “Small, Average, Big” Waist Sizes Men & Women

  Men Women
Small <35 in (89 cm) <32 in (81 cm)
Average 35-42 in (89-107 cm) 32-40 in (81-102 cm)
Big >42 in (107 cm) >40 in (102 cm)

Average Waist Size by Age

For both men and women, our waistlines tend to grow as we get older. But in old age, we often lose weight, and our bellies shrink again.

Table 3 below shows the average waist size for men and women of different age groups.

Table 3. Average Waist Size By Age

  Men Women
  inches cm inches cm
20-29 35.1 89.2 32.4 82.4
30-39 37.0 94.0 34.3 87.0
40-49 38.2 97.1 35.8 90.9
50-59 40.0 101.6 37.0 93.9
60-69 41.1 104.5 38.3 97.2
70+ 40.0 101.5 37.2 94.4

Average Waist Size by Ethnicity

Genetics is another factor that dictates how big your waist is. And some ethnic groups have a higher propensity for storing fat in the midsection than others.

In table 4, you can see the average waist size for men and women of different ethnicities.

Table 4. Average Waist Size By Ethnicity

  Men Women
  inches cm inches cm
White 38.7 98.2 35.3 89.7
Black 36.3 92.3 38.1 96.7
Hispanic 37.9 96.2 35.7 90.7

Average Waist Size for Fit People

It’s important to realize that most waist size statistics sample the general population. And in the United States, 73.6% of adults are overweight5. So that’s hardly the benchmark you should measure yourself against!

Instead, it would be better to compare yourself to relatively fit people. For example, people in the military are generally in good shape because they must adhere to strict fitness protocols.

Therefore, I’ve also included average waist sizes for nearly 4,000 military men and women of various ethnicities. This data is from a 1988 US Army survey6, but it should still provide a representative sample of fit individuals.

Table 5. Waist Size Percentiles for Military Men & Women

  Men Women
  inches cm inches cm
1st 27.53 69.92 23.89 60.69
5th 28.73 72.99 25.09 63.74
10th 29.49 74.91 25.71 65.30
15th 30.05 76.33 26.13 66.38
20th 30.52 77.53 26.49 67.27
25th 30.95 78.61 26.80 68.08
40th 32.09 81.52 27.66 70.27
50th 32.83 83.4 28.24 71.73
60th 33.61 85.36 28.86 73.31
75th 34.96 88.79 30.01 76.21
80th 35.51 90.20 30.50 77.48
85th 36.17 91.86 31.11 79.01
90th 37.00 93.98 31.92 81.07
95th 38.24 97.14 33.20 84.32
99th 40.50 102.86 35.84 91.03

In table 5, you can see that the average fit man has a waist size of 32.83 inches (83.4 cm). While the average fit woman has a waist size of 28.24 inches (71.76 cm).

Another interesting point is that even the largest waist sizes for fit people are at, or below, the average for the general population in table 1.

Average Waist Size Circumference

Average Waist Size FAQ

Now you know the average waist size for men and women. But you might still want more information regarding your waistline. So here are some quick answers to the most frequently asked questions.

What is considered a large waist?

Most studies suggest a waist cut-off point of 35.4 inches (90 cm) for men and 33.5 inches (85 cm) for women. Anything larger than that increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.

Remember, these general thresholds are upper limits for a healthy body, not targets for your personal ideal waist size.

What is the ideal waist size?

Your ideal waist size depends on your height and overall body size. Generally, a waist circumference equal to half your height is considered a healthy target.

For example, if you’re 5’2″, your ideal waist measurement would be around 31 inches (62″ x 0.5 = 31″). On the other hand, if you’re 6’2″, your ideal waist measurement would be roughly 37 inches (74″ x 0.5 = 37″).

However, you may need to target a smaller waist-to-height ratio to create a more fit and aesthetic physique.

Click Here to See the Ideal Greek God Body Ratios

Average Waist Size Ratio

Is a 24-inch waist realistic for a woman?

For a female, a 24-inch waist is smaller than 99% of women, even among fit people. So indeed, it’s a rare feat to achieve such a tiny waist measurement. Still, that’s not to say it’s impossible.

A 24-inch waist could be attainable if you have a naturally petite frame, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. However, it’s probably not realistic for the vast majority of women.

Is a 30-inch waist realistic for a man?

For a male, a 30-inch waist is smaller than 95% of men in the general population. But around 15% of men can still achieve this waist measurement by getting in shape.

You are more likely to have a 30-inch waist if you’re young (<30 years old), short (<5’6″), and highly active. But if you have a big frame or you’re lazy, it’s unlikely your waist will get this slim.

What’s the best way to reduce belly fat and waist size?

Unfortunately, all those online ads for products that melt belly fat are scams. Studies have consistently shown that spot reduction of body fat is a myth.

Instead, body fat burns off in a predetermined sequence with a caloric deficit and increased energy expenditure. However, once you nail down those things, you can potentially speed up the process using proven methods.

One such method is yohimbine. A supplement that studies show helps unlock stubborn fat cells in the abdomen. Click here to learn more about how yohimbine works.

In addition, you’ve probably seen ads for waist trainers and waist trimmers. These products claim to burn belly fat and reduce waist size. Click here to see my Sweet Sweat waist trimmer review.

Average Waist Size - Waist Trimmer

Waist Size and Body Type

A large waist circumference could be a sign that you have an endomorph body type. This body type is associated with a slower metabolism and a thicker, heavier frame.

As an endomorph, it’s generally harder for you to lose weight even with diet and exercise. So it’s vital to use specific endomorph diet and workout strategies to reduce your waist size.

Next Step: Take My Free Body Type Quiz

Waist Size Body Type

More Body Measurements

Now that you know how your waistline compares to the average person’s, you might be interested to learn about other measurements. Fortunately, I’ve compiled all my best body measurement articles right here for you.

Why Wrist Size is Important

Are Your Forearms Skinny?

What Your Neck Size Says About Your Health

How Big Are the Average Person’s Biceps?

Relative Size of 20-Inch Thighs on Men & Women

Average Butt Size by Gender, Age, & Ethnicity

If you liked this article, check out some of my other awesome content below. You’ll find helpful tips on nutrition, supplements, and workouts to reach your fitness goals faster.

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By |September 27, 2022|Bodybuilding|0 Comments
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