Altezza mezza bellezza, as the Italians say—height is half of beauty.
Ours it seems is a culture that valorizes the tall and belittles, as it were, the short. Being tall is also associated with career success: in fact it has been estimated that a person who is six feet tall is likely to earn around $166,000 more over the course of a 30-year career than someone who is five foot four. The taller you are, for instance, the more likely you are to go on to higher education. This is true even after controlling for cognitive ability, suggesting that some kind of subtle—indeed unconscious—bias may be operating among educators.
For males in particular, height seems to be linked to greater happiness and self-esteem. With psychological advantages stemming in part from the pervasive tendency to associate height with power. That tendency is embedded in our language: we look up to people we consider superior; those without influence are the little people.
Evolutionarily speaking, one might argue that a tall man would be preferred by women because, if you follow the argument, he’ll be stronger and better able to ward off physical treats to his family. In the beast-eats-man world of primitive civilizations, this argument might have a rationale. However, unless taller equals stronger, faster, and smarter even in this scenario, height wouldn’t seem to offer any particularly unique advantage.
In an intriguing 2013 study, Dutch psychologists Gert Stulp, Abraham Buunk, and Thomas Pollet followed up on some of their earlier work on male height to find out more about what leads women to prefer those lanky guys. They were also curious to learn how and why people are satisfied with their own height.
Stulp and his colleagues sought to understand not only who prefers whom in terms of height, but also how people feel about their own height. The participants in this study were 650 first-year heterosexual psychology students who received course credit for completing the survey. They estimated their own height, and reported on their sex, ethnicity (most were Dutch or German), and reported on their sexual orientation. The rest of the questions, simply enough, asked them to report on their relationship status, the height of their partner, the satisfaction with their own height, and their satisfaction with the height of their partners.
The results on partner preferences are a bit discouraging if you’re a short man. In general, women were more likely than men to think that the man should be taller and they didn’t want to be in a relationship in which they were taller than their male partners. Men liked being taller than their partners, but they didn’t care about the height difference as much as women did.
As it turns out, people do tend to partner with people of similar height due to a phenomenon known as assortative mating. However, no one seemed totally happy with their partner’s actual height. Men were most satisfied with women