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Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 00:46 GMT 01:46 UK
Tall men 'top husband stakes'
Tall men "are more likely to have children"
British scientists have come up with an explanation for why most men are taller than women.

They say taller men are more sexually attractive and are more likely to father children.

Men, though, prefer shorter women, so the two sexes are unlikely ever to end up the same height over the course of evolution.


In choosing a husband, size matters

Daniel Nettle, Open University
"It seems that tall men and petite women are favoured in evolutionary terms, even in a modern population, so the height difference between men and women is unlikely to disappear," says Daniel Nettle of the Open University.

The verdict that size matters is based on a study of 10,000 people born in the UK in a single week in March 1958.

Their health and social development has been followed for the National Child Development Study.

Dr Nettle's team analysed data from the study in the year 2000 when the men and women were aged 42.

He found the taller the men were, the less likely they were to be single or childless.

A man of 1.83m (6'0") was more likely to have children than an average man of 1.77m (5'10").

Women, though, were most likely to be married and have children if they were below the average height of 1.62 m (5'3").

'Fertility cues'

The idea is that taller men are deemed more sexually attractive and are more likely to find a mate.

In contrast, men look for "fertility cues" other than height in the marriage stakes.

"We have come to think that men pay attention to physical characteristics of their mates, whilst women pay more attention to status and resources," says Dr Nettle.

"In the case of height, this is clearly not true; in choosing a husband, size matters."


We are taught to look upon tall men and small women as desirable

Adam Eyre-Walker, University of Sussex
Dr Nettle says shorter women appear to have greater reproductive success partly because there is delayed fertility among tall women.

Short women generally reach puberty earlier while the bodies of tall women spend more energy on growing rather than entering puberty.

Also, tall women have a disadvantage because they have a smaller pool to choose from if they want a man they won't tower over.

The finding will come as no surprise to evolutionary biologists.

Some have long postulated a positive link between male reproductive success and lofty stature.

But not all scientists are convinced that genes are the driving force.

Cultural shift

There is no evidence that these choices are actually favoured in evolutionary terms, says Adam Eyre-Walker from the Centre for the Study of Evolution at the University of Sussex, Brighton.

He says the study was done on British people, so all we may be seeing is the influence of culture.

"We are taught to look upon tall men and small women as desirable," he told BBC News Online.

"This could be completely different in another culture (i.e. look at the different attitudes to fatness in different cultures)."

He says another explanation is that tall men may not be intrinsically more attractive, but they may be more successful.

While this makes them more attractive to a potential suitor, it may be competition between males, not female choice, that is responsible.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rachel Wright
"Couples are usually made up of taller men and smaller women"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Dizzy heights
Are tall men more desirable?
See also:

18 Feb 02 | England
02 Jul 01 | UK
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