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