By Erina Lee, Ph.D.
Look at couples in the street – usually the man is taller than the woman. Then look at some of the posts on our Advice site – it seems like all women are looking for a taller man. Sometimes it’s because they’re tall themselves and don’t want to tower over their partner, or because they just like tall men.
According to the research this isn’t just a fluke, and nor is it that the taller the better. Instead, it seems that women use a man’s height to work decide how attracted they are to them.
If you look at the couples around you, you find that most men are taller than their women. This isn’t just a coincidence, nor it is it as simple as taller is better, although research does show some preference for taller men. What’s interesting is how women use height, just as they might use hair colour, in gauging their attraction to a potential mate.
Why does taller seem to equal attractive?
It might seem like a no brainer that most women will end up with a partner taller than themselves, as men are on average the taller sex. But, in a 1980 study (Gillis & Avis) of 720 couples, only one couple had a taller woman and shorter man. This much smaller percentage than expected by chance suggests there is a selective preference for taller men.
Additionally tallness is seen as showing masculinity:
• Taller men are seen as more dominant and assertive (Melamed, 1992)
• Evolutionarily, larger men may have been seen as more able to provide, and as passing on strong genes to their children
• Following on from this, taller men have been found to have one more biological child than shorter men (Pawlowski, Dunbar, & Lipowicz, 2000)
The way that tallness is rewarded by society in general goes some way to explaining why some women prefer tall men, as they may be perceived as more powerful and even more attractive. Women may also feel protected and more feminine by a partner taller than themselves. To back this idea up, women who have more ‘traditional’ views on their role in society have been shown to be less inclined to date shorter men (Salska, et al., 2008)
What else plays a part in height preference?
If the female preference for taller men is so strong, then we’d all be dating basketball players and Peter Crouch (!) In fact, taller doesn’t mean better – other factors play a part. For one thing, it’s been shown the woman’s own height plays a part (Fink et al., 2007), requiring the man to be at least as tall as her.
This makes sense too – if women only ever went for the tallest possible men, their dating pool would be tiny (Salska, et al., 2008). However, research also found that women are attracted to taller men during ovulation i.e. when they’re at their most fertile (Pawlowski & Jaseinska, 2005) – these women are looking to pass good genes onto their potential offspring, without considering factors needed in a mate for a long-term relationship.
Now for the good news…
If you’re a shorter gentleman you might be reading this with a heavy heart. But remember that in choosing a partner based on their height, a woman’s own height, dating pool and relationship expectations come into consideration.
Height isn’t everything, by a long chalk – especially when we’re talking about long term relationships. According to a study by Braun & Bryan in 2006, women value intelligence, personality and career over physical appearance when looking for a serious relationship.
Add to this the fact that evolutionary theory strongly suggests that women wanting a long-term partner are looking for someone who will provide and be reliable, and the height factor starts to look less and less important. It’s true that no study can ever pin point what every individual woman wants from a partner, but these deep rooted desires are a good (and reassuring) starting point.
Braun, M. F., & Bryan, A. (2006). Female waist-to-hip and male waist-to-shoulder ratios as determinants of romantic desirability. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23, 805-819.
Buss, D., M. (1998). The evolution of human intrasexual competition: Tactics of mate attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 616-628.
Fink, B., Neave, N., Brewer, G., & Pawlowski, B. (2007). Variable preferences for sexual dimorphism in stature (SDS): Further evidence for an adjustment in relation to own height. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 2249-2257.
Gills, J. S., & Avis, W. E. (1980). The male-taller norm in mate selection. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 6, 396-401.
Hensley, W. E. (1994). Height as a basis for interpersonal attraction. Adolescence, 29, 469-474.
Melamed, T. (1992). Personality correlates of physical height. Personality and Individual Differences, 13, 1349-1350.
Pawlowski, B., Dunbar, R. I. M., & Lipowicz, A. (2000). Tall men have more reproductive success. Nature, 403, 156.
Pawlowski, B., & Jasienska, G. (2005). Women’s preferences for sexual dimorphism in height depend on menstrual cycle phase and expected duration of relationship. Biological Psychology, 70, 38-43.