Does Height Matter? How Height Plays Out in Real Life

Google “does height matter” and you’ll find a range of results all pointing to the potentially demoralizing answer…yes. Yes, it does.

And it gets worse.

One study conducted back in 2008 found that only 4% of women would accept a dating relationship where the guy was shorter, and other studies analyzing online dating profiles have found similar results. Ouch.

The odds may look rather grim for the not-so-tall man. But an important life lesson and something we can apply to this situation is that people don’t always get what they want. This rings true for women who only wish to date a partner of a certain height, according to another study done a few years back.

This 2013 study aimed to find out whether the height preferences women have actually play out in real life. The researchers began by testing a data set of over eighteen thousand participants made up of couples with children. The couples were asked to self report their height, and this information was entered into the research database.

The researchers wanted to follow up on two known height preferences: the male-taller norm and male not-so-tall norm. You can probably guess what these are if you’re not already familiar with them, but here are the quick descriptions anyway, based on this particular study.

  • Male-taller norm: a woman’s preference that a guy is taller than her by any measure
  • Male not-so-tall norm: a woman’s preference that a guy is taller than her, but by no more than 10 inches

The researchers knew from previous work that these preferences existed, but they wanted to discover if these height biases play out in reality. So, they used all the data collected from their sample of parents and scrambled them into random couples. Here is what purely random chance generated:

  • In 89.5% of couples, the man was taller than the woman (male-taller norm)
  • In 84.3% of couples, the man was taller than the woman, but within a ten-inch range (male not-so-tall norm)

So if that’s what random chance would generate, what is reality? The researchers found the following percentages for the real-life couples they surveyed.

  • In 92.5% of couples, the man was taller than the woman (male-taller norm)
  • In 86.1% of couples, the man was taller than the woman, but within a ten-inch range (male not-so-tall norm)

Take a moment to compare.

You may look at these numbers and think, “Wow, there’s barely a difference!” And you’d be right. But the other side of it is the question that has obviously occurred to all of you reading this: are these differences statistically significant?

Sorry, what? That didn’t occur to you, and you probably don’t care about the answer? Well, too bad, here it is.

First, if you aren’t familiar with the term, statistical significance is the likelihood that a relationship between two or more variables (in this case, the height of the woman and the height of the man) is caused by something other than chance.

For this case study, the researchers found that there is statistical significance. This means that partners were actually acting on their desired height preferences.

TL;DR: The desire of women to mate with taller men does play out in real life.

We suppose we could have just said that a few paragraphs ago.

“But wait!” I hear you yelling passionately. “I thought you said people don’t always get what they want in life. Why did I just bother reading this??”

Well, you don’t miss a thing, do you. Here’s your glimmer of hope. 

The researchers found that even though these height preferences do carry over into reality, they don’t actually carry over to the degree that they thought.

In other words, some women who wanted to date a guy who was, let’s say…six inches taller than themselves, succeeded in marrying and having kids with a guy like that. 

However, a lot of women didn’t. A lot of the women who wanted to date men (again, hypothetically) six inches taller, ended up having kids with a partner who was, for example, only four inches taller.

Why would that be the case? Well, that’s just how it works in real life. There might be plenty of fish in the sea, but the problem is that fish aren’t people, and in this case, the sea is more like a small lake or big pond...or dating pool. Not dating ocean.

The point is: the dating pool is only so big, and there aren’t enough tall or really-tall guys to go around. 

So the basic message here is this: as a not-so-tall guy, you might not get picked first for the team based on your stature, but you will get picked.

Also, make sure you didn’t miss the silver lining in all the fancy science. Did you hone in on the “male not-so-tall” height preference? You know, where women wanted someone taller than them but not that much taller? Did it make you pause?

Wait, so being not super tall can help me out?

Yep, you said it. There are many women that want a taller guy, but they don’t want a man who will tower over them so they feel like a squat office building beside the Eiffel Tower. There are benefits to being within ten inches of each other, for sure, and we’ll get into that another time. Just know that a reasonable difference in height can be even more important than simply being taller.

And did you spot the other silver lining?

Wait, there’s another one?

Well, maybe. This one definitely isn’t as prevalent, but it does exist. Remember that in 92.5% of the sample couples, the man was taller than the woman? Math then tells us that in 7.5% of couples, the woman was taller than the man.

So even for much shorter guys, assuming these women weren’t supermodel-wearing-heels-on-stilts tall, there’s still a chance. Maybe not an inspiring percentage, but not nonexistent. And that’s because people decide to have children together for a variety of reasons—height is not the end-all, be-all. It’s one facet of attraction (more on this in another blog), and that’s probably even more inspiring than the 7.5%.

To recap, in general, yeah, women prefer taller men. While most women will end up with a taller guy, most women will also end up with someone who doesn’t fit their exact, desired height difference. This is due to a finite dating pool and the availability of tall, or really-tall, men.

Some women also prefer to date not-too-tall guys, men whose height differs no more than ten inches to their own. And a small number of women will even end up with men shorter than themselves.

The final takeaway is that being even a little bit taller than a desired partner can make a difference and improve your chances of getting a date—in fact, a smaller height difference could even be the best case scenario.

So, chin up! It’ll make you look taller.

Resources

1. Salska, Irmina, et al. "Conditional mate preferences: Factors influencing preferences for height." Personality and Individual Differences 44.1 (2008): 203-215.

2. Stulp, Gert et al. “Are human mating preferences with respect to height reflected in actual pairings?.” PloS one vol. 8,1 (2013): e54186. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054186

3. Kenton, Will. Statistical Significance. Ed. Peter Westfall. 27 January 2020. Article. 13 April 2020. <https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/statistically_significant.asp>.

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