Are You Off To Meet A Tall Dark Stranger?

The second thing you notice about a stranger when you meet them is their height. I hardly need mention that the first thing is their gender. Gender and height has a weak connection in humans in that men are reportedly ~8% taller than women, but is this important?

This weighty question has received detailed scrutiny by Stulp et al in the Journal of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (1). They start off with the observation from online dating sites that women prefer taller men. Height appears to be an indicator of greater strength, but physical dominance is not the be all and end all. It is apparently correlated with social status in terms of income and education. This was from studies that I’d missed, so I had better amend my reading habits.

The males of most species have a great interest, and therefore make an investment, in reproductive success. Social status is critical in group-living species if the females are going to come your way. But people are a little different. In terms of social status, we have a dichotomy. More offspring (meaning greater reproductive success) increases with increasing income, while more offspring goes with decreasing educational attainment.

Stulp and his coworkers jumped off from this point and immersed themselves in the metadata accumulated in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. They found that 3,578 of the men in that study had their height recorded as well as the number of their offspring.

The computers were buzzing for a while until they settled on some correlations. Both years in education and income increased with increasing height, but not so with reproductive success. We need to note here that reproductive success is taken as number of children surviving to be able to spread their genes around.

The peak height for reproductive success turned out to be 5’ 10” to 5’ 11”. So we average guys score again, or do we? Maybe it’s just that there are more of us to choose from so more of us get started earlier. Or possibly, just possibly, height and number of kids are not causally connected even though the can be correlated.


Leave a Reply