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What Do Women Want? Nature Serves Up a Tall Order

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WebMD Health News

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.

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