The height of a potential partner does matter, a new study has found, but only to women, undermining evolutionary theory that people look for partners with physically similar features.
A study conducted by researchers at Rice University and the University of North Texas found that instead, women looked to date men who were taller than them for 'protection and femininity' reasons attached to social expectations or gender stereotypes, despite an “increasing equality in belief and in practice between the sexes".
The study, Does Height Matter? An Examination of Height Preferences in Romantic Coupling, was conducted in two parts. Part one used data from a series of Yahoo! personal dating advertisements from 455 males (average height of 5 feet 8 inches and average age of 36 years) and 470 females (average height of 5 feet 4 inches and average age of 35 years) in the US.
Just thirteen per cent of men specified wanting to date women who were shorter than them, but almost half (49 per cent of women) said they were looking to date only men who were taller than them.
“Evolutionary psychology theory argues that ‘similarity is overwhelmingly the rule in human mating,’” Michael Emerson, the study’s co-author said. “However, our study suggests that for physical features such as height, similarity is not the dominant rule, especially with females.”
In the second part, 54 male participants (average height of 5 feet 9 inches) and 131 female volunteers (average height of 5 feet 4 inches) were asked to answer open-ended questions on an online survey.
Thirty-seven percent of men said they only wanted partners who were shorter than them, but over half (55 per cent) of women said they would only date men taller then them.
The most common reason women cited for this related to protection and femininity, the authors said. One female participant said in an answer: "“As the girl, I like to feel delicate and secure at the same time [...] I also want to be able to hug him with my arms reaching up and around his neck.”
In contrast, male participants were much less concerned with height.
George Yancey, the study’s lead author at the University of Texas said the height preferences of men and women can be explained by traditional societal expectations and gender stereotypes.
He said that stereotypically in a patriarchal society, a taller height is considered to be a personal asset for men.
“The masculine ability to offer physical protection is clearly connected to the gender stereotype of men as protectors,” he said. “And in a society that encourages men to be dominant and women to be submissive, having the image of tall men hovering over short women reinforces this value.”
The study will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Family Issues.