Spurned by women, more likely to end up in jail, doomed to earn less, destined to languish in poorly paid jobs, plagued by feelings of inferiority and coming up short where coming up matters most, you’d think life had dealt the short straw to short men. And maybe it has.
Short men tend to be poorer
The rapidly diminishing segment of the population older than I am will remember the celebrated Frost Report “class sketch” where John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett represent the upper, middle and lower classes in the UK — the height differences symbolising who looks up to, and down on, whom.
As far back as 1915, it was observed bishops were taller than preachers — a trend continued in the towering figure of Cardinal Pell (190 cm).
A recent British study found that every extra 1 cm in height increased males’ earnings by about A$500 a year. Social class gradients in height are a consistent finding in the literature, although we are coming closer together. A study of 7,735 middle-class British men born between 1919 and 1939 found a 3 cm height gap between manual and non-manual workers. It will take 20 years before manual workers will be as tall as non-manual workers are now.
We see short men as less powerful
In one experiment, students were asked to draw a figure representing their concept of an average bloke and an ideal national leader. Two-thirds of students drew the leader as taller than the citizen. When asked if they saw themselves as a potential political leader, taller students expressed more confidence in their leadership abilities and more interest in running for a political office.
This translates into politics. The shorter candidate has defeated the taller in only eight of the 28 US elections since 1900. In our time, the improbable giant killer has been George W. Bush, who defeated two taller opponents: John Kerry, who was 11 cm taller, and Al Gore, who was 3 cm taller. Hillary Clinton (169 cm) will have to overcome a 19 cm deficit if she is to defeat her likely opponent Donald Trump (188 cm).
Women prefer taller men
Women like their men tall, though there may be a ceiling effect (so to speak) at somewhat over 185 cm. According to many users, the dating site eHarmony reportedly discriminates against short men signing up because they can’t find matches for them.
If women were randomly paired with men, we would expect about 8-10% of women to be taller than their male partners. And this does happen occasionally: Nicole Kidman (180 cm) is a serial shorter-man coupler, overshadowing Keith Urban by 2 cm and Tom Cruise by 10 cm. But in reality, only about 4% of women are taller than their partners.
Very short men (less than 163 cm) have fewer lifetime sexual partners (five versus seven partners) than taller men. Tall men also have more reproductive success. Among homosexual men, men who prefer a more active sexual role prefer shorter partners, whereas those who prefer a more passive sexual role preferred taller partners.
Women’s preference for tall men varies with the menstrual cycle. Women are turned on by tall men more when they are in the follicular (fertile) phase, and when their partners were chosen with a short-term relationship in view.
Taller men are smarter
Height has been consistently but weakly associated with intelligence in humans. Height may be an accumulative biomarker of general health during development, or genetic factors may impact both height and intelligence.
Shorter people feel less secure and likeable
In one experiment, 60 adults from the general population who were prone to having “mistrustful thoughts” underwent a virtual reality experience of a train ride on the underground.
The participants experienced the same virtual trip journey twice: once at their normal height and once at a height that had been virtually reduced by 25 cm. Although participants didn’t consciously notice the height difference, more of them reported feeling less capable, less likeable, more insecure and inferior when they were virtually dwarfed.
Short men are more likely to commit violent crime
A study of 760,000 Swedish conscripts found that every 10 cm of height reduces the risk of violent criminality by 7% even when adjusted for socioeconomic status. However, the effect disappeared when adjusted for intelligence: taller men are more intelligent, and therefore less likely to commit violent crime.
Taller men may live longer
There is a vigorous debate around the relationship between height and mortality. Some researchers have found that shorter stature is associated with longer life. Taller people are more likely to die of cancer (each 1 cm in height increases relative risk by about 0.7%), perhaps because they have more cells and hence a greater risk of DNA mistranscription when cells divide. The greatest risk is for melanoma, perhaps due to a larger exposed skin surface.
However, most studies have found that taller people have longer lives, although the effect is small. Various studies have found that each extra 1 cm of height reduces the relative risk of death at any age by about 0.5%, 0.6% and 2%.
Short men have shorter … other bits
Can it get any worse? It can. It may be that short men are short … elsewhere. While we lack hard evidence, so to speak, we can get some indication from two studies on this subject (which goes to show that everything has been studied).
A study of 5,200 Americans found that very short men (less than 160 cm) were three times more likely to report a small penis than men taller than 193 cm.
And an Italian survey of 3,300 men that measured the height of both the participants and their John Thomas (or Giovanni Tomasi in Italian) found positive, but weak, correlations with flaccid and stretched penis length.
The various disadvantages of short stature in men arise from both genetic and environmental factors. As so often happens, biological differences are amplified by social stereotypes. Height is one of the most visible and obvious differences between men and women, and therefore, like muscularity, emblematic of masculinity.
There are probably sociobiological reasons behind women’s preference for tall men. Height integrates lifetime exposures to deprivation, illness and injuries, and is an “honest advertisement” of the body’s ability to withstand them.
Most height-related differences are modest, and although we can make light of it, short stature can be a source of serious psychological concern. Former French President Nicholas Sarkozy (165 cm) wears 6 cm platform shoes and insists on standing on “Sarkozy boxes” behind lecterns.
However, short men can take heart from Mugsy Bogues, the shortest player ever to play in the NBA, who at 160 cm was 71 cm shorter than the tallest, Manute Bol, but managed to keep up pretty well.