The Naked Truth About the Wives of Tall Men
The science of male height and female marital satisfaction
Posted Apr 12, 2016
Are the wives of tall men happier? There's actually a bit of research about that.
Reporting in the March 2016 issue of Personality and Individual Differences, South Korean researcher Kitae Sohn of Konkuk University says that survey data representing 7,850 couples in Indonesia show resoundingly that wives of tall men are, indeed, happier. When men are about four inches taller than wives, wives are about 4% happier. (Wives’ happiness was assessed on the two surveys Sohn examined by asking them to rank themselves on 5-point happiness scales.) Not only are the wives of tall men happier, the taller the husbands are, the happier wives are—though in Sohn’s analysis of the data the correlation seems to weaken over the course of about 18 years of marriage until it disappears entirely.
Sohn’s findings jive well with the work of other researchers. For example, a 2010 analysis of data collected between 1993 and 1999 showed that 41% of women prefer tall men. In Poland between 1994 and 1996, personal ads representing tall men received more responses. And, while an American commercial dating service called HurryDate doesn’t conduct scientific surveys or controlled studies, it has reported that its women clients choose taller men more frequently.
Why women make the mating choices they do, and whether those mating choices make them happy, are burning questions to some evolutionary psychologists. Evolutionary biologists consider the same matters with regards to females of animal species. Commonly, they speculate that females of some species have evolved to favor big, strong males that can protect and provide for them. In much of the animal kingdom, size matters.
Sohn supposes that the same is true for humans—and that, for women, “tall” fits their instinctual preference. Sohn also suggests there may be a second reason that women covet tall men. Giving a nod to the “sexy son” hypothesis originated in 1930 by evolutionary biologist Ronald Fischer, he says that mating with a tall man might help a woman beget tall offspring. By virtue of being tall, any sons would have more opportunities to procreate—and to proliferate his mother's genome.
Sohn acknowledges that his observations about Indonesians may not apply world-wide. After all, most Indonesians are very short. (The height of the average Indonesian male has been pegged at 5'2". The average female seems to be about 4'10" tall.) Sohn even goes so far as to suggest that Indonesians might be a little overly concerned with height as a result of their own short stature.
With that in mind he suggests that a survey of wifely happiness in Northern Europe might be helpful as a contrast to his work with Indonesian data. In which case I nominate the Dutch as a study population.
According to an April 5, 2004 New Yorker article by Burkhard Bilger, the Dutch haven’t always been the soaring behemoths we now know them to be. Bilger tells a story about visiting a village where Vincent Van Gogh had once lived. Apparently, Van Gogh was diminutive, as was typical for Dutch men of the late 19th century.
"I was shown the tiny alcove where the painter probably slept. ‘It looks like it would fit only a child,’ ... the [building’s] current owner, told me."
Bilger reports that, in Van Gogh's day, the Dutch were among the smallest people in the known world. These days, as a result of profound dietary changes, they number among the world’s tallest.
Just to repeat: The Dutch went from one of the world’s shortest people to one of the world’s tallest in about 120 years. That’s only six generations—no doubt too short a time for evolutionary prejudices written in DNA to change.
So, I have to ask: How happy are Dutch wives? Anyone have some research money?
Follow me on Twitter @RebeccaCoffey
- Kitae Sohn, “Does a Taller Husband Make a Wife Happier?”, Personality and Individual Diifferences, March 2016.
- Ronald Fisher, The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, The Clarendon Press (UK), 1930.
- April 5, 2004, Burkhard Bilger’s “The Height Gap” in The New Yorker.
PsychologyToday.com columnist Rebecca Coffey is a science journalist, humorist, and novelist. Her recent novel is the fact-based Hysterical: Anna Freud’s Story, which tells the story of Sigmund Freud's analysis of his own lesbian daughter. Oprah recommended it in her O! Magazine, and The American Library Association named it a 2015 Over the Rainbow book.
"Journalist Coffey … presents an avidly researched, shrewd, and unnerving first novel that purports to be the lost autobiography of Anna Freud. . . Coffey offers some truly shocking disclosures about the Freud family in this complexly entertaining, sexually dramatic, acidly funny novel of genius and absurdity, insight and delusion, independence and loyalty. Illustrated with archival photographs and backed by a substantial bibliography, this is an electrifying, imaginative portrait of an overlooked historical figure of great significance: fascinating, courageous, and steadfast Anna Freud." — Booklist