The tall and the short of it: most women prefer taller men, even though it’s the shorter guys who often make the best long-term partners.
Let’s face it, dating is a challenge. Even supermodels and A-list actors struggle with it. But in the last decade it’s gotten even tougher. Dating websites have given us the ability to narrow our search to specific preferences in physical appearance and personality, resulting in wish lists that rival Santa’s. If you’re a woman, that usually means you want a man who is tall, at least taller than you and just as women shave a few pounds off for their dating profile, men, if they’re on the short side, tend to add a few inches. When you meet in real life and tower over him in your heels, no matter how charming and good looking, if he’s shorter — forget it.
There are plenty of exceptions, however. Look at legendary beauty Sophia Loren and her much shorter husband, Carlo Ponti, or sultry movie star Nicole Kidman and country singer-songwriter husband Keith Urban or model Sophie Dahl and her musician husband Jamie Cullum. If these women can literally overlook the short issue, why does height remain such a deal breaker?
I checked statistical data on height in the United States and found that the average height for men is 5 feet 9 inches tall (no, not 6 feet) and for women, 5 feet 4 inches tall. That’s a five and a half inch difference, leaving plenty of room for stilettos — if you’re both of average height.
Primetime news program 20/20, roughly twenty years ago, conducted a test to look into myths about dating, mating and sex. One query in particular focused on height, specifically “Are short men at a disadvantage in romance?” They were out to prove that height matters in the game of love — and they did.
They recruited tall and short men for a lineup. Groups of women chose men as a potential date from behind a two-way mirror. The short men were described as successful, educated or wealthy while the taller men were given no description. The tall men were always chosen. In fact, nothing succeeded in making them prefer the shorter men. One woman even suggested that the show’s producer describe the tall men as “murderers” to even the odds for the shorter men!
The 20/20 segment was inspired by a study done by professor Allen Mazur of Syracuse University. Mazur determined that taller men were likely to marry more often and have more children. They had more opportunities to attract women other than their wives, which lead to divorce, remarriage and even more children. Mazur then speculated that because of that, shorter men were better husbands and have more long-lasting marriages — bonus points for the short guys.
Gathering information from various sources suggests that from a cultural perspective, women seek a physically larger partner because he is perceived to have more power, dominance and status, and that height was perceived as a sign of authority. Even when the short men were highly educated and wealthier than their taller counterparts, most women still chose taller men.
I decided to do an informal poll, asking my friends what they thought about the shorter man conundrum.
“We all have our physical preferences and attraction isn’t a choice,” says Steve, a 5-foot-8-inch school teacher. When I asked him about women who refused to date shorter men, he said “[these] women are no different than men who won’t date a woman because of her weight or small breast size.” Steve also said that women with petite frames (under 5 feet 3 inches) tend to be “much easier to toss around in bed” even though the physical attributes of tall women don’t escape him. “I love their long lean legs,” he says “and their higher metabolic rate seems to keep them sexy and lean.” Yet his ideal woman falls between 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 7 inches — neither short nor overly tall in his opinion. And even though he’s only one inch below the average height for American men, he says he feels the disadvantage in the dating game when compared to his taller friends.
Jerry, a 5-foot-8-inch software consultant, complains that many women list height as a priority before any other. He says that many of the women he’s encountered on dating sites consider it an absolute non-negotiable item. Though he agrees that everyone is entitled to their preferences, he says women are limiting their dating options. Yet Jerry says he prefers to date women in the 5 foot 3 inch to 5 foot 6 inch range — women who are shorter than him.
Victor, also 5 feet 8 inches tall, is a multi-talented hair dresser with a different take on his less than average height. He says the tallest woman he ever dated was 6 feet 5 inches tall and his ideal is 5 feet 9 inches. He sees taller women as “instant credibility in society” and describes the experience equivalent to “getting out of a Lamborghini.” Victor attributes his preference as a reflection of his own strength, power and sense of domination. He also admires his peers who date taller women and perceives them as “true artists and seducers.”
What about taller women? Sheila is 5 feet 10 inches, a tall woman by United States standards. She describes her ideal man as visibly taller than herself but confides that she feels shallow because of it. “I know it isn’t right, but it’s a preference like hair color or eye color,” she says. “I am attracted to tall men, damn it, but I am open to shorter men winning me over with their personality.”
Still, we do see, from time to time, those happy couples where the woman can easily see over the top of her man’s head. Nancy, a 5-feet-11-inch online sales specialist, married her best friend Carl, a 5-foot-3-inch warehouse manager (who is also 10 years younger). She admits that they were friends for years before they started dating, so the height difference wasn’t an immediate issue. “When I met Carl I knew he was a great guy,” Nancy says. “I kept thinking I should set him up with a short girl. Then one day it hit me. I would be terribly stupid to not keep him for myself.”
What do men think about their much taller mates? Nancy’s husband Carl says his wife’s height is an advantage. “She’s easy to spot at the store and we get through crowds faster,” and says, “The reactions of drunk guys at parties is always amusing. They can’t seem to figure out how a guy as short as me was able to get someone as tall as Nancy.”
My conclusion? When it comes down to choosing romantic partners, women may want to consider dropping their height requirement. Tall may turn more heads, but short appears to be the smarter choice with more than one study to back them up. A team of sociologists at New York University published a study on men’s height and relationships and reported that short guys have their own advantages. For starters, they are more likely to make a marriage work (32 percent lower divorce rate). They also tend to have higher incomes and do more housework compared to their taller peers.
Perhaps the obvious answer to the age old question, “Where are all the good guys?” is to look around us. There may be some opportunities that we’ve simply overlooked.
We love this photo gallery of shorter men with their taller women.
Copyright © Nadia Dulyn/2015 Singular Communications, LLC.