What Do Women Want? Nature Serves Up a Tall Order
Jan. 12, 2000 (Atlanta) -- The following information would no doubt have
Napoleon putting up his dukes: When it comes to women choosing a mate, height
does matter ... somewhat.
R.I.M. Dunbar, PhD, from the University of Liverpool, England, and two
Polish colleagues recently conducted a study of 4,500 Polish men between the
ages of 25 and 60. What they found, the authors write in this week's issue of
the journal Nature, is that "taller men are reproductively more
successful than shorter men, indicating that there is active selection for
stature in male partners by women."
Dunbar tells WebMD, "We know a lot about height, stature, on the
psychological perceptions of people in terms of their social, economic and
other success, the reality of it. What we've shown is that these social and
economic successes are actually carried over into evolutionary success, if you
like, in terms of the frequency that people can pass on their traits to the
next generation. ... We do indeed have free choice, but those choices still
have evolutionary consequences and ... our decisions are actually guided by, or
influenced by, genuine evolutionary considerations."
The researchers found that men without children are on average three cm.
(1.2 inches) shorter than those with at least one child. The mean height of the
men in this study was about 5 feet 6 inches. Dunbar says that unusually tall or
short men were not included in the study because that may "reflect some
pathological condition which may in turn have fertility consequences."
The only age group with men that were not "significantly" taller
than the childless group was men in their fifties. The authors credit that to
the fact that these men entered the marriage market after World War II, when
men were in short supply.
Dunbar says that people likely have some "inbuilt guidelines," along
with a myriad of other experiences, that direct them toward a specific mate,
but of course, anyone can override those guidelines if they wish. "Stature
is simply one criterion that women in this particular case use, and they're not
choosing taller men just for the sake of tallness, but [rather] tallness is a
cue or index of something more fundamental," Dunbar tells WebMD.
There are two schools of thought in sexual selection theory about those
fundamental desires, Dunbar says. One, that passed down through the
hunter-gatherer, agricultural history of modern man, is a sense among women
that tallness gives an advantage because it signifies strength. Additionally,
tallness could also be a marker for good genes, biologically speaking, of
someone who is capable of "withstanding the vagaries of the world,"
Dunbar says, such as illness or poor diet -- "genes that are good at