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Last year, Ann Friedman called on women everywhere to overthrow “the last acceptable dating prejudice” and give short men a chance. At 6’2”, she can’t restrict her dating pool to taller men, and she’s discovered that short men aren’t—shockingly—that bad: In fact, she writes, if a man is willing to go out with a taller woman, there’s a good chance he’s also secure enough to accept a woman who’s “competitive and outgoing and career-oriented.”
While Psychology Today kindly offers that women don’t “quite” see short men as “lepers,” Friedman is more accepting than most. When a 5’4” blogger added five inches to his height on his OkCupid profile, his response rate jumped from 16 to 29 percent. In a more methodologically sound experiment, a pair of sociologists found that 48.9 percent of women restricted their online dating searches to men who were taller than them. (Men were less picky: Just 13.5 percent wouldn’t consider a taller woman.) Out of all 925 people, only three left the “desired height” category blank. When the same team took a survey of 181 college students, 29 percent of women said they would feel “awkward” or “weird” dating a shorter guy, and both men and women in this sample were even more exacting about height: More than half of the women—55 percent—said they only wanted to date men who were taller, and 37 percent of men said they would only go out with women who were shorter.
But a preliminary new study suggests that shorter men might actually make better partners: They do a greater share of housework, earn a greater proportion of household income, and are less likely than their taller peers to get divorced. In a working paper (it has not yet been peer reviewed), Dalton Conley, a sociologist at NYU, and Abigail Weitzman, a Ph.D. candidate, used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics—a University of Michigan project that’s been collecting demographic data on 5,000 families for almost 50 years—to look at how a man’s height impacts different areas of his relationship after the initial dating period.
They looked at two sets of data, from 1986 and 2009, and identified 3,033 heterosexual couples. (They restricted their sample to men between the ages of 23 and 45 cohabiting with a woman.) The men ranged in height from 4’6” to 7 feet; their height, in relation to their partners’, ranged from nine inches shorter to two feet taller. They categorized the men into three groups: “Short” men were defined as 5’6” or less in 1986, 5’7” or below in 2009; “tall” men were at least 6’1” in 1986 and 6’2” in 2009.
Short men turned out to be somewhat less likely to get married: At every age before 45, they marry at a rate 18 percent lower than men of average height. “Short men may have a harder time getting married because they’re viewed as less masculine,” says Weitzman. “Women who have traditional gender ideals may find that less desirable.” If they do find a partner, though, they’re less likely to get divorced: Divorce rates for tall and average men were basically indistinguishable, but 32 percent lower for short men. Weitzman explains this by saying that women who are “resistant” to marrying short men are more likely to “opt out” before it gets to the point of marriage: “There’s something distinct about the women who marry short men.”
Or maybe it’s just that short men make better partners. They do a greater share of housework: On average, they perform 8 hours and 28 minutes per week of housework—constituting about 28 percent of the total—compared to 7 hours 38 minutes for average men and 7 hours 30 minutes for tall men. And they’re more likely to be the breadwinners: Conley and Weitzman estimate that 78 percent of short men out-earn their partners, compared to 69 percent of average men and 71 percent of tall men. Although other research has suggested that taller men earn more—perhaps because of employers’ biases—they didn’t find evidence of income disparity among the different height groups. Tall men may be, in Weitzman’s words, “aware of the status that is conferred by their tallness”—which might make them less motivated to pitch in at home.
Short men are more likely to partner with women who are older and less educated. 21 percent of the short men in the sample coupled with women who had not completed high school, compared with 16 percent of average men and just 12 percent of tall men: Overall, short men are 75 percent more likely to couple with someone who hasn’t graduated from high school. Across the whole sample, only 9 percent of men partnered with a woman who was more than three years older, but these men were likely to come from the short cohort. “Short men may be considered immature, and one way they could get around this threat to their masculinity would be by partnering with women who are younger than them,” said Weitzman. “Tall men don’t necessarily have that same threat and may feel more comfortable partnering with women who are older than them.” That doesn’t sound so far from Friedman’s argument.