Why do women tend to prefer tall men?

Posted by | August 17, 2014 | Uncategorized | 13 Comments

A recent study showed that women prefer to marry men who are 8 inches (!) taller than they are. Why do women prefer tall men?

One theory is that for evolutionary reasons women unconsciously prefer tall men because these men tend to be more successful in physical altercations with other men. That theory would apply to humans a dominance perspective similar to that experts hold regarding gorillas and many other animals. The idea, from evolutionary psychology, is this:  Modern women tend to have genes that propel them, consciously or not, to favor tall men.  That occurs because women in the past who had this preference tended more than other women to produce children who survived to reproduce.  Were the tall men of yesteryear able to obtain more food?  Able to better protect a woman and children? Could height have indicated health and intellect?  We know that in children proper nutrition makes a big difference for height, health, and intellectual development. The evidence is clear in poor countries where some children come close to starving.

Another possibility is that women favor tallness in men for psychosocial reasons. Looking up to someone literally may translate in the unconscious brain to looking up person figuratively. Also, tall men may give women a sense of being protected by a more powerful person. Studies show that tall men are seen as leaders and are elected to office more often than shorter men who run against them. I would guess that as a group they make more money (even putting aside players in the National Basketball Association!).

Male height, of course, is only one factor in romantic preferences of women. Among other factors, being loving ought to play a role. Some women marry men who are the same height or shorter. Not many women marry a man who is 8 inches (!) taller, in part because on average men are only about 5 inches (no exclamation mark) taller than women and in part because many other factors are important. Also, some women do not care about a man’s height.

Tall men, by the way, tend to favor tall women. Not as tall the man, but tall. To be precise, men in a study favored women 3 inches shorter on average. The desire for a partner who is similar is part of assortative mating — individuals mating with someone who has a similar genotype or phenotype.

Australia is a good place to find tall romantic partners — it has a tall average height for adults.  The tallest nation? The Netherlands.

Where does this height-prefernce situation leave short men? For some, it may leave them hustling to show their personal advantages aside from height — trying to show actual leadership, power, strength, etc. Some tall men pursue these goals too. For short men, the situation may lead them to marry short women.

What would you consider the ideal height for your romantic partner? How does that compare to your height? My answer for preference: 5 feet, 7 inches to 6 feet, 2 inches. I am 6 feet, 2 inches.

John Malouff, PhD, JD, Associate Professor of Psychology

 

Photo by Amir Babaei on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

13 Comments

  • Caity says:

    Hi John,

    I haven’t really thought about the ideal height for my romantic partner, but now that I think about it, all of my past romantic interests have been my height or taller. I’m 5 feet, 7 inches, so I guess my ideal romantic partner would be between 5 feet, 7 inches and about 6 feet, 2 inches.

    Caity

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi Caity. That is a popular height range!

  • Elizabeth Reed says:

    Protected by a more powerful person. And, of course, it must tap into father-figure associations. Tall, thin, men are more intelligent, sensitive, artistic, . .less likely to hunt animals, in this century, I have observed, as well as that body-type theory of meso-morph, etc. The hunting thing is my own inference,but I stand by it. Men with hunting images on their sites can go to h*ll.

  • Anonymous says:

    Did you write this out of vanity? Why do you need to announce that women prefer you, and men like you?

  • jmalouff says:

    I don’t think so. I am only a few inches taller than average for a man. My height has benefitted in sports and in seeing over people in a crowd. I have never noticed any social benefit, although research findings suggest it may occur.

  • Freida says:

    I am a 5’8” woman, slender and active. I like a taller man than me for an intimate partner. I have been with shorter men and I feel very strange – like he could be my child or son. I have heard some very tall men say they feel uncomfortable with much shorter women – they feel she is small enough to be their child. This is like the Oedipal complex. Some people just feel that way. Uncomfortable.

    I don’t know why taller men like women who are not as tall as them, but I am glad if they do. I have dated many men who do not care about my height. Some think I’m too slim. Personally, it is hard enough to get through all the obstacles of finding the right partner on any level. I follow through with a man I feel physically comfortable being around, who feels comfortable being around me. I think a lot of women like the feeling of being “protected” and a lot of men like to feel they are physically dominant to the woman and can protect her.

    That said, all men have the ability to be manly (or not) regardless of their height. It is just a matter of personal comfort for each individual in terms of the intimate physical relationship.

    Personally, if I were not so tall I feel I’d find a lot more men that I am comfortable with physically. That is just my nature and so I go with that. I have one girlfriend who is 6’ tall and stronger than most men she meets. She has also expressed to me that she likes a man at least as tall and strong as she is. That’s what she feels comfortable with. We’re talking about having an intimate physical relationship. This is not a value judgement about a person’s “womanhood” or “manhood”. Some guys say I’m too skinny for them. Glad to know! Keep it moving and I’ll pick one who finds my slender size attractive. I feel like just as much of a woman as another who is more curvy and endowed. I don’t feel like less of a woman. I just know that I am not every man’s cup of tea.

    There are no hard and fast rules of attraction. I do know many couples where the man is not as tall as the woman and they are very happily married for many years.

    This author is writing about the general comfort zone of the large portion of people out there dating. It’s not a hard and fast “rule”.

    Don’t get too worked up Anonymous. As my Grandmother used to say “for every pot there is a lid”.

  • jmalouff says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and observations!

  • Chris says:

    John,

    You just wrote a piece on how tall men fare better in sexual selection, job selection, and social status. And then wrote that we are all essentially competing for the same things. But then you also say tall men generally fare better in competition in all aspects due to a cultural or psychological bias. And then you asked, rhetorically, where that leaves short men. It really is interesting how you thought any of this was necessary, whether or not you felt it was coming from a good place- which I do highly doubt. Tell me, was this more or less about trying to get a girl who is 5’7” to email you? Because I don’t think this was about educating or even discussing anything. You are essentially telling people they are apes and that they think like apes. And you are essentially broadcasting that it’s ok to behave primitively and to think primitively, unless you are a short man. In which case, he isn’t really a part of society at all- primitive or not. I don’t see how this is scientific or productive at all, sir. I’m not even short but I can see how this piece may not sit well with anyone who isn’t at the top of male human height. And since you have made it so far as a psychologist, it seems like you did write this to be rude and that you wrote it knowing that it was meant to be rude. You do nothing to instill confidence in the short man, who is our brother. In fact, you publicly disgrace him. And you do nothing to ask women to reflect and exercise questioning their primitive motives for their mate selection, which comes from their primitive brain. You of all people know that our brains are capable of more sophisticated ways of thinking. But in any case, to each his own. Congratulations. You wrote your dribble.

    Cheers and Bananas.

  • jmalouff says:

    Hi. I can sense your hurt and anger. There is prejudice against short individuals. I did not endorse the status quo in dating preferences — I just described one. A man’s height is not the only factor women commonly consider. They may consider level of agreeableness, emotional stability, social confidence, conscientiousness, physical attractiveness, social status, wealth/earning capacity, sense of humor, body shape, age, etc. Some of these factors are changeable by an individual.

  • Lizelle says:

    Hi John,
    I grew up in South Africa. Plenty Dutch descendents in that country, meaning I was considered short at 5’2 amongst my peers. I think I prefer tall men 6′ plus simply because it was the general height of men
    who I grew up with there and I think sub consciously I resented being shorter than all my peers both women and men. Average height of girlfriends were around 5’8. It feels normal to be with a tall man for me. Will add Ive met many short men here in Aust same as many tall men, found the short men had issues related to their height dating back to their teens well into adulthood, this manifested mostly in chip on the shoulder type issues, short temperedness, proneness to knuckle on…and they never held back on letting fly of personal insults if I rebuffed their show of interest in me from a dating perspective.

  • jmalouff says:

    Individuals who see themselves as inferior in some way are at risk for developing psychological problems — particularly if they are teased or socially rejected. It is hard to be perfect in every way; people do best when they focus on their best chaacteristics and put those in play whenever possible.

  • HWU says:

    Originally, I was also thinking like your post that taller guys tend to be stronger and survive better but after I took a sociology class and think a lot about evolution, I have a different point of view. Did females automatically like taller guys or they are socially constructed by how society set up that taller guys are better. I can tell that TV, advertisements, etc are kind of making taller guys the best. But if things are reversed and continuously show males under 5ft to be the best and most handsome for 100 years, will that perspective of good-looking change?
    In history and some countries, fat females are considered beautiful while the USA doesn’t see it that way. So it is questionable if liking taller males is really because of evolution. Cause if males are under 5ft, one can argue that bigger males get targeted by other animals easily or tend to battle more so they die easily. Or taller males tend to be more aggressive to females causing females to leave them. While shorter males can hide better in the environment and escape danger more easily so they survive better. Plus, survival of the fittest never stated what is the fittest for the environment right? The study showed that the ideal height for a male is around 5’6 to be the healthiest. They would make sense because the world average height for the world population is 5’7. If tall is the best, then the average height should have been 6ft or taller right? Just like 4’7 is not the average. The range of mid-5 ft would probably be the goldilocks zone based on research and studies.
    Based on this explanation, it would also explain why someone you see a couple where one is pretty/handsome while the other isn’t. It also made me question what is beauty? Our perspective of beauty is different based on media and society which is socially constructed as well. Like my parent’s perspective of some modern actors being ugly, my siblings and friends of our age don’t think so. What the older generation consider pretty was different from my generation. So pretty and handsome are probably also socially constructed. There were also studies saying that if there is a guy that isn’t good-looking to a girl but everyone else says that he is handsome, she will slowly start to see him as good-looking. So it is kind of implying that our point of view changes based on outside factors. So most people who like tall males might be affected by outside factors as well. So if each person were not affected by society’s perspective, beauty, handsome, and height will be different for each person.
    As for my own experience, inside there is a type of partner I really love and I am so attracted but I know that type is not the standard based on the society. I also like the society standard but I can’t tell if that is my real liking or if I am brainwashed to like standard beauty/handsome/ height. All I can tell is my body and passion reacted to the type I naturally like while the standard will only make me attracted and admire. If compared, I would prefer the one I am naturally attracted to but there is a chance that I might give up the one I naturally like for the standard type just so I can make others admire me. But I can tell that the natural type I like is the best for me. Based on this way of thinking, it also explains why many people ended up choosing someone else instead of their ideal type they told friends. Your natural type is like the right key for your lock. Of course, your natural type can be the standard type as well. Therefore, my conclusion is that there is no such thing as what height is best for anyone. It depends on your and your environment. Also, other characteristics are as important. So what do you think?

  • jmalouff says:

    Thoughtful analysis.

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