Does a Taller Husband Make for a Happier Wife?
Women tend to prefer taller to shorter men.
We know that this is more than just a preference, because research shows that women act on their desires: male dating profiles advertising tallness receive more responses and result in more dates, and taller men are more likely to marry.
Women want taller men, and, if they can help it, they pair up with taller men. But does getting what she wants make a woman happy? Is shacking up with a lanky man the path to everlasting contentment?
This was a question recently posed by Kitae Sohn, an economist at Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea.
Sohn reasoned that, because tall men enjoy all manner of privileges on account of their stature — including higher wages and social dominance — life with a taller man may be better than the alternative.
Rather than quizzing a small number of women about their happiness and their spouse’s height, Sohn harvested data from two large datasets collected in Indonesia: the Indonesian Family Life Survey (IFLS) and the Indonesian Family Life Survey East (IFLS East). These longitudinal projects began in 1993 with a survey of 22,000+ individuals living in 7200+ households, and have revisited their respondents periodically ever since.
In his paper, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, Sohn says:
“Indonesia presents an interesting case because it belonged to the region where the mean height was the shortest in the world over the past two centuries; the population remains one of the shortest populations in the world at present. When tallness is scarce, women may enjoy more happiness from tallness than otherwise”.
Respondents to the Life Surveys answered the question: “Taken
all things together how would you say things are these days — would
you say you were very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” Their height was also measured.
On average, Indonesian men are 10.9cm taller than their wives. Sohn’s analysis of the data revealed that a 10cm increase in this height difference was associated with a 3.9% increase in the probability that women would report they were feeling very happy rather than pretty happy or not too happy.
Because men’s height is related to their income levels, Sohn suspected that the relationship between husband’s height and wife’s happiness could be explained by taller men earning high wages. Tall men might have happier wives because they are wealthier, and not simply because they’re so statuesque that they keep getting their hair caught in the ceiling fan.
Indeed, women were happier if their men earned more money. A 100% increase in a man’s salary accounted for a 2.1% greater probability that his wife would check the “very happy” box. Still, accounting for earning power did not eliminate the effect of height; Sohn concludes that a man’s pay packet cannot entirely explain the link between his height and his wife’s happiness.
Sohn also found that the effect of height dissipated over time. As a marriage progresses, a wife’s happiness is less strongly related to her husband’s height. After 18 years of marriage, the influence of height on happiness vanishes: by that point, women are no more or less happy if their husband is tall or short.
So women are happier when they’re married to a tall man, but, even if their marriage lasts, it’s no guarantee that they’ll live happily ever after.