Tag: sexual selection

Height isn’t everything

Posted in news by jenapincott on June 21, 2009

Two inflammatory points in BLONDES are:

1. Women tend to have a same-race bias in marriage. This is especially true of black women — at least in the US and UK. Asian women have the weakest same-race bias. Asian men, meanwhile, seldom marry women of other races.

2. Short men get short shift. Women prefer men who are taller and men prefer women who are shorter.

A new economic research paper, Anthropometry of Love: Height and Gender Asymmetries in Interethnic Marriages, led by an Oxford economist, combines these two findings. The latter (#2) explains the former (#1), they claim. Height is a major factor, which means the reason Asian men don’t fare as well in the interracial marriage market is they tend to be shorter than men of other races while Asian women have more options for the same reason. Black women, meanwhile, tend to be taller of women of other races, so they fewer options. (See discussion in the Times.)

We argue that a simple preference for a taller husband (or shorter wife) can explain part of the gender-specifi…c asymmetries across ethnic groups in the propensity to outmarry. Blacks are taller than Asians, and their height distribution is closer to whites. Because they are taller, black men have better prospects on the white marriage market than Asian men. For women, the reverse is true. Because Asians are relatively short on average, women fare substantially better on the white marriage market than black women.

There’s a certain (uncomfortable) logic to this, but height shouldn’t overshadow more important factors.

The economists ignore findings that many people tend to marry those from a similar background (religion, educational level, and ethnicity including race), because familiar trumps foreign in a long-term context. (Happily, certain behaviors such as talking about a favorite literary work reduced same-race preferences in one speed-dating study). While height may well be a deciding factor in selecting a long-term partner, a shared background is likely stronger. (Many non-Asian women believe Asian men are more traditional and would not marry them.)

Also overlooked by the economists are the other qualities that matter to women: status, paternal proclivity, and resources. Like background, these qualities may be more influential than height. Women are inclined to overcome their same-race and height biases when a man has an abundance of one of more of these qualities (according to studies I describe in the the book). This suggests that a short guy of any race will have more marriage options, including a tall choosy black woman, if he’s successful, kid-loving, and shares a lot in common with that woman.

Note to economists: height is important to sexual selection — but it isn’t the only measure.


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