Women care about height and for many short men who are looking for a wife that means either settling for one who is less attractive or not finding one at all. There is a silver lining though: a short man who is able to establish himself economically could very well find that later in life he has a younger wife than his taller friends.
Many studies have found a link between how well men do economically and their height. A recent German study, for example, found that for each additional standard deviation in height (an increase of about 7 cm) West German men are paid a 4% wage premium. So for example, a man who is less than 165 cm (5’5”) tall is, on average, paid 562€ less per month than a man who is between 185 and 195 cm (6’1” to 6’5”). Other studies that look at data from countries throughout the developed world have found very similar results – taller men do better on average in the labor market.
There are several reasons why this relationship exists beyond simple workplace discrimination, not the least of which being that adult height is related to socio-economic status in childhood. But it isn’t just income that is causing short men to fair worse on the marriage market; even when we control for income women prefer taller men.
Consider the following experiment as an example. Imagine that a woman can choose to communicate with one of two men on an online dating site. One man earns $50,000 a year and is five inches taller than the woman. The other man earns X dollars per year and is five inches shorter than the woman. Every other characteristic about these two men is identical. What would “X” have to be in terms of income for the woman to prefer to communicate with the shorter man?
Using actual data from online dating websites economists have come up with the answer to that question – the short man would have to earn just over half a million dollars a year for a woman more than five inches taller than himself to want to communicate with him on an online dating site.*
Not surprisingly, the same study found that in online dating men who were between 6'3" and 6'4" tall received about 60% more messages from interested women than did men who were between 5'7" and 5'8" tall.
Using data from France, another study found that men who are shorter are significantly less likely to be either married or in a serious relationship even when the author controls for social status. They find that only 60% of 30 to 39 year old men who were less that 170 cm tall were married compared to 76% of men between 170 cm and 180 cm and 74% of men over 180 cm.
But here is an interesting twist. Because shorter men are more likely to still be single when they are a little older, they are in a good position to take advantage of an after-market, so to speak, that is populated with younger women who are less concerned with their husband's physical appearance and more interested in his ability to provide a stable income. Taller men are more likely to be married when they are younger, before they have established themselves as providers, and are more likely to be married to women who are closer to their own age.
Sure, taller men may have been married and then divorced, but the shorter men are more likely to not have the additional constraint on their resources of an ex-wife and children.
You might be wondering why I chose this picture of US president Obama and French president Sarkozy and their wives for this post. It is not just for the obvious point that Sarkozy is only 165 cm tall and is both powerful and married to a beautiful younger woman. It is because if you look closely enough you will notice that despite the fact that he is president of the fifth largest economy in the world, and married to a beautiful woman, Sarkozy is sufficiently concerned about his height to be wearing heels and to be standing on his toes. Such is the stigma attached to a man’s height.
“What Makes you Click? Mate Preferences and Matching Outcomes” in Online Dating by G. Hitsch, A. Hortaçsu, and D. Ariely.
Herpin N. (2005). “Love, careers, and heights in France, 2001.” Economics and Human Biology, 3 (3); pp. 420-449.
Thank you to Elaine Scoiolino whose excellent book La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life brought this Sarkzy / Obama picture to my attention.