The sea-level rise due to ice-sheet melting since the last glacial maximum was not uniform everywhere because of the deformation of the Earth's surface and its geoid by changing ice and water loads. A numerical model is employed to calculate global changes in relative sea level on a spherical viscoelastic Earth as northern hemisphere ice sheets melt and fill the ocean basins with meltwater. Predictions for the past 16,000 years explain a large proportion of the global variance in the sea-level record, particularly during the Holocene. Results indicate that the oceans can be divided into six zones, each of which is characterized by a specific form of the relative sea-level curve. In four of these zones emerged beaches are predicted, and these may form even at considerable distance from the ice sheets themselves. In the remaining zones submergence is dominant, and no emerged beaches are expected. The close agreement of these predictions with the data suggests that, contrary to the beliefs of many, no net change in ocean volume has occurred during the past 5000 years. Predictions for localities close to the ice sheets are the most in error, suggesting that slight modifications of the assumed melting history and/or the rheological model of the Earth's interior are necessary.