Why aren't we all tall?

By Razib Khan | August 9, 2012 4:05 am

There’s a fair amount of social science and anecdata that tall males are more reproductively fit. More precisely, males one to two standard deviations above the norm in height seem to be at the “sweet spot” as an idealized partner (e.g., leading males). And, short men often have fewer children. Short women will pair up with tall men. Tall women will generally not pair up with shorter men. The question then has to be asked: why isn’t natural selection producing a situation where we’re all tall?

As it is, height is a highly heritable trait where there’s a lot of genetic variation present in the population. One hypothesis might be that short(er) people are simply individuals with a higher mutational load. In other words, there’s going to be variation in the load of deleterious alleles from person to person, and one’s value on quantitative traits (intelligence, height) is a reflection of one’s genetic fitness. There are problems with this model, starting with the fact that one you need to tease apart inter-population variation. Also, within families there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between height and intelligence, which you would expect to see if quantitative traits are reflections of variation in mutational load.

So naturally you have to move the possibility of balancing selection. I have suggested in the past that inter-population differences in height may be a function of expected levels of nutritional stress. Short people are smaller, and need to eat less. The same dynamic could produce variation in height within populations as well. But a new paper outlines what I think I think is the most elegant solution (though elegant does not mean right!), Intralocus sexual conflict over human height:

Intralocus sexual conflict (IASC) occurs when a trait under selection in one sex constrains the other sex from achieving its sex-specific fitness optimum. Selection pressures on body size often differ between the sexes across many species, including humans: among men individuals of average height enjoy the highest reproductive success, while shorter women have the highest reproductive success. Given its high heritability, IASC over human height is likely. Using data from sibling pairs from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, we present evidence for IASC over height: in shorter sibling pairs (relatively) more reproductive success (number of children) was obtained through the sister than through the brother of the sibling pair. By contrast, in average height sibling pairs most reproductive success was obtained through the brother relative to the sister. In conclusion, we show that IASC over a heritable, sexually dimorphic physical trait (human height) affects Darwinian fitness in a contemporary human population.

There isn’t much theoretical complexity in the paper. They’re looking at a huge data set of individuals from Wisconsin, and they observe that in families where siblings are short the sisters tend to be more fecund, and in families where the siblings are not short the brothers tend to be more fecund. The argument here is that antagonistic sexual selection maintains variation within the population. Some of the media reports suggest some sort of frequency dependent theory in the background; if the population gets too tall or short then males and females of the favored varieties may gain more fitness advantage.

As the authors note over time this sort of dimorphism should fix in a manner where the variation within the population diminishes as sex specific alleles emerge. But this takes a very long time, and may simply be impossible to attain toward equilibrium in the case of a trait with the genetic architecture of height. One would have to imagine modifier genes throwing out their net across the whole genome.

It’s easy to imagine why being tall might entail fitness gains for a male. What’s going on with females? I suspect that on the extreme margin very tall women probably have lower fertility for hormonal reasons. But that doesn’t explain to me why very short women seem to have such high fertility in relation to average height women. One explanation might be that they mature faster, and so enter their peak reproductive years rather early. This might extend their fertile period longer than average height or taller women. In contrast, this isn’t much of a gain for males, who have longer reproductive careers on the tail end.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution
MORE ABOUT: Height
  • http://www.forestazuaron.com/ Sam

    We’re talking about number of children here, not some objective biological fertility score, so you have to take into account perceived attractiveness during mate selection.

    Across most cultures, the one thing that seems to stay (fairly) constant for female attractiveness is age: younger (or, at least, younger looking) women are considered more attractive, and this is particularly true in the United States (where this study was conducted). Indicators of being young include: perky breasts, lighter hair, and being shorter. So shorter women could be more successful because they’re considered more attractive.

    Then, once again because this is an American study, you have to take into account male psychology, and the fragile male ego. Most men do not want to date a woman who is taller than them. Traditionally, men want to feel like the big, strong breadwinner in a relationship, and it’s hard to do that when their girlfriend/wife towers over them. In this way, taller women would be restricted to dating even taller men, while shorter women could date men of any height, and the difference in reproductive success could result from that shrunken dating pool taller women have.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    I’m sorry Razib, but you seem to be being purposefully thick near the end.

    I know I have seen other studies before which suggest that short women are more reproductively fit – that peak fertility happens roughly one standard deviation below average for women. IIRC, this would be around 5’2″ in modern western culture.

    I think the answer seems simple. If tallness is considered attractive in men, and short men are considered less attractive, the converse is also true – tall women are considered more masculine, hence less attractive. At least in modern western society, this works in two ways.

    One is female selection. For a woman who are 5’2″, essentially every man is in her potential dating pool. However, as she increases in height, the potential dating pool decreases unless she becomes less choosy. Women above 5’9′ or so have a potentially small dating pool – and what’s worse, those guys may be highly attracted to short women, meaning they don’t have to settle down with a tall woman at all.

    The other side is male selection, which I think is less an issue, because men tend to be less choosy. I am on the shortish side for a white American man (5’8′) but I dated a few women taller than me by a couple inches. Indeed, I actually found it easier to get dates with tall women than average ones, as they tend to be passed up by men who are intimidated or assume she’s waiting around for someone over six feet. That said, certain aspects of dating – such as holding hands with someone who had the same size hands as me – really skeeved me out, as it made me feel like I was holding hands with a man. I ended up with a preference towards short women anyway. I think it would be the same for most guys – they will be reproductively flexible, but in the end, prefer a shorter woman as a partner if they can find one.

    All things considered, if a tall women is conventionally attractive, she shouldn’t have trouble finding a partner to raise children with. However, I would assume if she’s plain or homely, where her chances would be slimmer to finding a partner anyway, the added burden of height might make it difficult indeed to find a man willing to settle down with her.

  • dcwarrior

    Also, in modern society, doesn’t just about everyone reproduce, such that not only is any particular advantage competing against other countervailing pressures as you note, but also that the “less fit” genomes are not removed from the overall population, but rather are added back to the mix? In other words, the less-preferred short males don’t die and have zero kids, they also get married and their genes get thrown back into the pot.

    Also notice the subtle bias here inherent in the original question – women prefer tall men so tall men are more fit so why isn’t everyone getting taller? Note that if you start it the other way – men prefer medium to short women so medium to short women are more fit so why isn’t everyone getting shorter? – logically it’s just as valid a question but the hypothesis in question is the other way around. It’s acknowledged and dealt with in the text but notice that the question assumes fit men determine the direction height is going.

  • Rhwawn

    > It’s easy to imagine why being tall might entail fitness gains for a male. What’s going on with females? I suspect that on the extreme margin very tall women probably have lower fertility for hormonal reasons.

    My own explanation was a little simpler than Zimmerman: I reason that a tall man is compatible with both short women and tall women – if she’s tall, then they’re equal and it’s OK while if she’s short, then it’s also OK for him to be taller and have to reach down for any interactions. While this is not true for a tall woman: she’s OK if the guy is tall, but if the guy is short (as is much of the male population) then there will be problems as people will notice and joke about it and the guy will feel vaguely ashamed and embarrassed to be with her. So it’s best to be a tall man or a short woman. Short men and tall women will do the worst.

    (Alas, I’ve never seen any hard evidence on whether this is even an accurate description of reality, much less the real reason.)

  • Peter

    1) Short men are less reproductively fit now – but has that always been the case? Fashions come and go on a timescale far too short to show up in evolutionary terms. Height preference could be one such.

    2) Similarly, height is highly heritable now – has that always been the case? Historically I’d have expected height to be much more influenced by environment / nutrition – tallness would be a marker of good status rather than good genes. If we’ve only recently uncovered the genetic variation (by improving nutrition across the board), then there’s simply not been time for selection to act.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Also, in modern society, doesn’t just about everyone reproduce, such that not only is any particular advantage competing against other countervailing pressures as you note, but also that the “less fit” genomes are not removed from the overall population

    no.

    Historically I’d have expected height to be much more influenced by environment / nutrition – tallness would be a marker of good status rather than good genes

    it’s heritability is very high. if it was only 50%, that’s still VERY heritable (in the west it’s 80 to 90 percent).

  • Miguel Madeira

    Imagine the we all had the double of the height that we have. In these world, it will be considered that we are all tall?

    Of course not – the people less taller than the average will continue to be considered “short” (even if they were taller than the tall people in the “real” world).

    Perhaps this is the reason “why aren’t we all tall” – we really are all tall!

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #7, there are biomechanical and other such limits to height. but over time selection should exhaust variation in the particular direction of a quantitative trait so that all variation should be gone. in other words, the distribution of height/intelligent should be much narrower in absolute terms if directional selection was efficacious over the long term.

  • Neuro-conservative

    So what is the balancing factor for cognition? Brain size/energy expenditure?

  • Jokah Macpherson

    I’ve often brought up intralocus sexual conflict (although I’ve never known what it was called before) when someone was suggesting that certain traits considered attractive in one sex would become more pronounced in the future. I imagine this would apply to other traits besides height as well, such as shoulder size, waist size, etc.

    From my experience men are all over the board on the ideal height of a parter but the average feeling is one of indifference either way.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #9, probably size. big-ass heads can’t fit through the birth canal. eventually it would be energy and probably structural problems.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #10, yes, there is a model where high masculine men produce masculine looking daughters, and highly feminine women produce girly men.

  • Anthony

    There may be something to the male preference for shorter women – while most women will have at least as many children as they want to, barring physical incapacity, some women’s preferences will be dependent on whether they have a husband who will help with raising the child(ren). Taller women will have a harder time finding husbands due to their own and men’s preferences, so one would expect taller women to have slightly fewer children on average. One might further speculate that if height gives an advantage to women in their careers, even if not as strong as for me, that fewer tall women will be willing to single-parent and derail their careers, which would push down the average number of children of tall women a little further.

    This of course assumes that both male and female height is equally inherited from each parent.

    Re #5 and #6 – while it’s true that it’s only recently that almost everyone gets to reach their genetic potential height, the selective pressure for male height would be acting on a random selection of genetically-tall individuals, as those genetically-short men who had the wealth to reach their genetic potential height would still be short. So the selective pressure would still favor genetically-tall people. In the real world, even those genetically-tall men who didn’t reach their full height due to childhood bouts of malnutrition would likely be a little taller than average, as plenty of genetically-short men would have had the same experience, and so despite being stunted, they’d still gain some benefit from their tallness genes.

  • Tom Bri

    Don’t ignore interactions inside the marriage. As long was we are speculating, consider a marriage with a tall woman/short man. If the woman feels more physically dominant, she’ll able to control the frequency of sex to a greater extent. Less total sex tends to mean fewer babies. Yes, I am assuming that generally a female-dominated couple will have less sex than a male-dominated couple, particularly after a baby or two.

  • Isabel

    Wasn’t there less dimorphism in our extinct relatives, and even in modern hunter gatherers? What advantage is there for the female to be smaller?

    ” That said, certain aspects of dating – such as holding hands with someone who had the same size hands as me – really skeeved me out, as it made me feel like I was holding hands with a man.”

    I was skeeved out by this comment. What is the advantage of mothers who resemble children anyway? It sounds like a perversion of civilization to me. Like being attracted to women with narrow hips-not smart from an evolutionary perspective.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Wasn’t there less dimorphism in our extinct relatives, and even in modern hunter gatherers? What advantage is there for the female to be smaller?

    the dimoprhism results are probably not reliable due to small sample size of fossils.

    What is the advantage of mothers who resemble children anyway?

    short women don’t resemble children, for the record. interesting point though about how preferences for size may vary.

  • Hippo

    Fuel supply {ie food) probably has alot to do with it, for a while rencetly, as food was abundant, average height was increasing, but as we cram more and more people into cities, smaller people have the advantage of requiring less fuel (food) and space. This is simply the species adapting to the enviroment. I bet you would find that there are more tall people in rural areas and less in urban centres as a percentage of the population (if you exclude sports which skew the results) as that would simply make sense.

    Notice that many of the largest cities in the world are often populated by the shortest people, I believe this is more than just coincidence.

  • Jason Malloy

    This was my response to the Why Do We Still Vary? [In Height] post last year. Several still-relevant links provided on the topic, including a paper on the biological link between shorter height and earlier motherhood in women (and the evidence is both are being selected for as well).

  • Karl Zimmerman

    17 –

    I think you’re seeing the influence of environment and nutrition on height, coupled with the likelihood of western cities to attract people from developing countries who didn’t reach their genetic height potential in full themselves.

    I find the idea there would be any active selection against the tall in general based upon access to resources alone somewhat preposterous. Keep in mind that tropical forest areas with plenty selected for pygmies, whereas a lot of hunter-gatherers in very seasonal climates in northern Eurasia became very tall indeed. When it comes to extreme isolation, like insular dwarfism, there is of course a bias towards shrinkage, but otherwise there are many ways a population can adapt to a resource crunch, and countervailing pressures (predation, competing groups, etc) could keep the selection on the big an powerful even when the small might otherwise be favored.

  • Grey

    “short women don’t resemble children”

    I’d say it’s almost the opposite. With the same bust and hip size short women look *less* like children i.e. the curvy bits are bursting out all over. Maybe that’s just my impression but geometrically speaking wouldn’t things like waist-hip ratio and the *percieved* size of breasts be influenced by height?

    .
    “There are problems with this model, starting with the fact that one you need to tease apart inter-population variation…They’re looking at a huge data set of individuals from Wisconsin”

    Wouldn’t it make a difference how much choice-based sexual-selection was taking place? In a culture where marriage was through personal choice there would be stronger selection on individual characteristics whereas in cultures where marriages were arranged by the family for other considerations – which i think is most of history in most places since agriculture – individual characteristics may have been secondary.

    Then again if there’s a male-female balancing act on height selection then greater selection may cancel out anyway.

    However another thought on that would be differential sexual selection i.e. in a culture where relatedness and status decided marriage along the male line then there might still be sexual selection of the females i.e. a fixed male choice based on status and family getting to choose one of four available female first cousins and the shortest (and therefore possibly curviest) getting picked thereby selecting on balance for shortness whereas in a more choice based culture the male-female preference sexual selection averages out?

    .
    “Also, within families there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between height and intelligence, which you would expect to see if quantitative traits are reflections of variation in mutational load.”

    What if total mutational load effected both but independently i.e. there’s mutational load related to height and mutational load related to IQ and although they go together they act separately so a family with 10 units of mutational load might randomly have kids with 1-10 points of height load and 1-10 units of IQ load while familes with 4 points of mutational load randomly had kids with 1-4 units of height load and 1-4 units of IQ load. If so then there might be a *higher* correlation between height and IQ among taller families than shorter ones?

    Just a guess.

  • Isabel

    “I’d say it’s almost the opposite. With the same bust and hip size short women look *less* like children i.e. the curvy bits are bursting out all over. ”

    Are you suggesting that height and “width” (bust and hips) are not correlated, i.e. that taller women are less curvy? Anyway, I was responding to the first two comments, particularly the *revulsion* a man feels holding hands with a woman who has the same size hands as him, a woman he was presumably otherwise attracted to. Or the suggestion that shorter=younger, as in not fully grown.

    This analysis of OkCupid users is interesting: both men and women lie about height, and both say they are taller! Shorter women do get more unsolicited messages, but it’s pretty flat until about 5’10”, when it starts to drop dramatically.

    http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/the-biggest-lies-in-online-dating/

  • Grey

    “Are you suggesting that height and “width” (bust and hips) are not correlated”

    No i’m generally very data-challenged. I’m saying *if* height and “width” (lolz) were partially not correlated that might explain an unconscious male preference.

    .
    “Or the suggestion that shorter=younger, as in not fully grown.”

    Yes and i agree. I think it’s possibly the exact opposite.

    .
    “This analysis of OkCupid users is interesting”

    If there was a (mostly) unconscious male preference based on perceived “width” i’d guess it would mostly only display visually i.e. they might not notice they had a preference with just a face photo. The drop off at 5′ 10″ goes against that a bit but not totally.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Isabel –

    I missed your first comment. Regardless, a preference for a female partner smaller than myself does not equal a preference for children, or even a preference for youthful, childlike women.

    More generally speaking, I have known many men who have had preference for smaller women. Mostly this was either explained in terms of simply being attracted to small women, or else enjoying the size differential (easy to carry, for example). I have never met a man, even a tall one, with a preference for tall women. There are men who like women with “long legs,” but this is really a matter of favoring a body with a proportionately small torso than a specific leg length. I also know tall guys who find it a pain to date short women (due to extreme height differences making kissing difficult, for example), but they still end up doing so fairly often regardless.

  • Isabel

    “There are men who like women with “long legs,” but this is really a matter of favoring a body with a proportionately small torso than a specific leg length.”

    I believe that extra height in women is usually in the legs, and generally short women do have proportionally shorter legs (proportional to their own torsos that is). Just sayin’.

    It would seem that hip size is generally greater in taller women and that this could allow bigger brains right? Except for men having wider shoulders and women having wider hips, it’s hard to see any reasoning in the supposedly natural sexual preferences of humans. Other factors could account for some of the difference in size (eg hormones)

    @23: I get that you and many (most?) men prefer smaller women. The question is why, from an evolutionary standpoint? You made a distinction between dating and mate choice – again that seems only relevant to modern cultures.

    “Easy to carry” LOL

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    The question is why, from an evolutionary standpoint?

    physical coercion? even though height corrected women have less upper body strength it is still close enough that it’s far more impractical to physically intimidate a partner eye-to-eye. have no idea if that is true.

    also, fwiw, female friends who have issues with being made to feel ‘less feminine’ when the male is not notably larger than they are. (and for the record, my wife is .75 inches shorter than i am, so about the same size)

  • skid

    Smaller women tend to also have smaller heads. Usually, all else being equal, smaller head size = cuter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/doclonglegs Andrew Selvarasa

    For what it’s worth, I am a 6’5″ male who is highly attracted to tall women. The closer she is to my height, the more I find her attractive. Just thought I’d throw that out there, to add variation to the data gathered from the anecdotes above.

  • Isabel

    “physical coercion?”

    “smaller head size = cuter”

    like a child is small and cute? Here we go again- still not seeing how that’s adaptive, at least pre-“civilization” anyway.

    Ugh. I can’t think of much else to say. Time to go hang out at some radical feminist websites!

    For the record, I’m 5’9″, and yep, childless. :) And like at least one or two people here, pretty comfortable with people more or less my size. I have zero desire to look up into my protector/coercer’s eyes…

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #28, enjoy your time on radical feminist sites ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/doclonglegs Andrew Selvarasa

    Isabel, you will find your [equal to your princess] prince, I promise. :) You WON’T find him here* or on any of the radical HBD blogs (unless you’re the pinnacle of Nordic and feminine perfection in their eyes), I can tell you that much. Branch out!

    *I don’t think this place is even close to radical, for the record!

  • Wim Van Dijk

    “Wasn’t there less dimorphism in our extinct relatives, and even in modern hunter gatherers?”

    On a related matter, here’s what I’ve read recently:

    http://sciencenordic.com/what-vikings-really-looked

    “The skeletons reveal another difference between us and the Vikings: men’s and women’s faces were more similar in appearance in the Viking Age than they are today.

    “It’s actually more difficult to determine the gender of a skeleton from the Viking era,” says Harvig. “The men’s skulls were a little more feminine and the women’s skulls a little more masculine than what we’re seeing today. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all skeletons from the Viking period, but generally it’s quite difficult to determine the gender of a Viking Age skeleton.”

    She explains that Viking women often had pronounced jawbones and eyebrows, whereas in the men, these features were more feminine than what archaeologists are accustomed to when trying to determine the gender of ancient skeletons.”

    Is this correct? Is there a known explanation?

  • Sandgroper

    #30 – I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m one of the longer serving regulars, and one of my feminine ideals is Venus Williams, who at 6’1″ is 3″ taller than I am and self-evidently not Nordic.

    I would hold hands with Venus any time while remaining totally unskeeved. I can’t speak for her, obviously.

  • http://www.facebook.com/doclonglegs Andrew Selvarasa

    #32 – Maybe I’m spending too much time lurking at iSteve. :)

  • Grey

    Surely it’s testable?

    Are identical waist-hip ratios / bust sizes *perceived* as having more “width” depending on the height of the woman?

    Similarly i read with men the preferred waist-hip ratio is 0.9. Does being taller create the *perception* of more stretch?

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com Peter

    What is the advantage of mothers who resemble children anyway? It sounds like a perversion of civilization to me.

    Consider the way nearly all men today only want hairless women. If there’s something that make a woman resemble a child, that’s it.

  • Grey

    “If there’s something that make a woman resemble a child, that’s it.”

    It’s also an exaggerated gender signal.

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com Peter

    @ 36:
    Actually men shave too, perhaps not to the (overwhelming) extent that women do, but it’s becoming far more common. An interesting note is that shaving first became popular among male porn actors, as it made them look bigger.

  • James Abraham

    I don’t think it’s a very good question, to be honest.

    The only evidence you cite that tall people enjoy significant reproductive success is from modern, 21st century societies

    As far as I understand the findings of anthropologists, the most important determinant of reproductive success in pre-agricultural societies is prowess as a hunter or warrior. Are tall people better hunters/fighters than short people? I see no evidence of this. You could equally argue that people of short builds are favoured, as it’s so much easier for them to gain muscle (especially in places where food is scarce).

    Seems pretty clear to me that you have a trade-off: the taller you get, the lankier you’re likely to be. (Maybe not in 21st century America where you can shovel as many steak burgers as you want…but certainly for a hunter-gatherer tribe in the savanna). Sometimes it pays to be tall and skinny, sometimes it pays to be small and stocky. Ample variation around the mean is exactly what we should expect.

  • Isabel

    “You WON’T find him here*”

    Thanks, not looking for love, just a little respect. :)

    “radical HBD blogs”

    All of which seem to be mainly populated by male virgins living in their mothers’ basements (including the supposedly female sockpuppets). I checked out some PUA sites once and couldn’t tell the difference to be honest. And I bet if the tables were turned every last one of them would be feminists.

    “If there’s something that make a woman resemble a child, that’s it.”

    It’s also an exaggerated gender signal.”

    Or the removal of one. Or are you suggesting women have less pubic hair? I don’t think that’s true. Admittedly, I prefer men with clean-shaven faces, so can’t judge even though I find it annoying. Maybe it’s some kind of early imprinting that we can’t do anything about later in life?

    @38 maybe height makes people stand out?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Sometimes it pays to be tall and skinny, sometimes it pays to be small and stocky.

    i alluded to the fact that i proposed this model in the post. please read the post first before you comment in the future (or i’ll ban you :-)

    and we’ve gotten peter talking about pubic hair it won’t end…. (though yes, i know you keep your mouth shut on this topic when it’s not on topic :-)

  • Grey

    @39
    “Or the removal of one. Or are you suggesting women have less pubic hair?”

    I was thinking about shaving legs etc.

    @38
    “I don’t think it’s a very good question, to be honest. The only evidence you cite that tall people enjoy significant reproductive success is from modern, 21st century societies”

    Doesn’t that make it interesting? If you can figure out the reason why it matters now and didn’t in the past that might tell you something. For example if it turned out there was a natural two-way sexual selection on height but in opposite directions then cultural marriage forms where the sexual selection was solely on the females might tend to produce shorter populations while those populations where the women had more of an equal choice would be taller (through the height preferences balancing out).

    The same distinction historically – the total amount of individual choice and how it is balanced between men and women – might effect a lot of physical and personality traits.

  • James Abraham

    i alluded to the fact that i proposed this model in the post. please read the post first before you comment in the future (or i’ll ban you)

    Apart from the phrase “nutritional stress”, which was only part of my argument, you never alluded to anything of sort.

    If you honestly did appreciate the relevance of my argument, which calls your starting assumption into question, then you’d see quite well that your hypothesis of antagonistic sexual selection is completely superfluous. Without justification, you extrapolate from modern society to the environment of evolutionary adaptedness. I called you on this erroneous assumption, and apparently you don’t like it.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    i’ve discussed height before

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2007/09/why-you-be-short-or-tall-well-a-little-bit/

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2008/02/why-brown-people-are-midgets/

    it wasn’t ‘my hypothesis.’ i was discussing a paper which presented this hypothesis. in hindsight i could have been clearer…but i don’t appreciate the repeated imputation of views to me which i clearly don’t hold. for you erroneous reading comprehension i’m banning you. if anyone has a problem with my banning james abraham, please leave a comment so i may ban you too. better a batch now….

  • Karl Zimmerman

    26 –

    I disagree with your premise that small heads = cute. Cuteness is generally understood to mean neotenous traits. A child by age 3 has around 90% of their adult head size, IIRC. The facial region will grow in size to some extent, but cranial capacity essentially doesn’t. “Cuteness” in women is associated with a small, short face and a fairly high, rounded forehead traits which tend to mean a head is “more braincase.” Someone of childlike stature with a proportionally adult head looks – and generally is – deformed.

    28 –

    Don’t consider that the desire for neotonous traits must mean that men want women that look like children. Rather, I think it’s the case that neotonous traits are desirable on women because it distinguishes them from men.

    Also, don’t take any of this personally. I have a fairly thick coat of hair on my back, but I don’t have any issue with people pointing out this isn’t considered to be attractive for men.

    More generally –

    To return to (and put some caveats) on my original post, I dated two women a few inches taller than me who were fairly lanky in build, so we evened out pretty much. It didn’t phase me too much. However, I went on a date with a women who was around the same height but robustly proportioned (not obese, but certainly not skinny) and the idea of being intimate with her was beyond the pale. While I consider myself a pretty open-minded 21st century guy, I didn’t feel particularly masculine when comparing myself to her. Call it insecurity if you like, but we don’t have much control over our preferences.

  • Sandgroper

    It’s “faze”, not “phase”.

    Sorry, I’m being pedantic, but it’s what it is. I have a bee in my bonnet about it. Everyone spells it wrongly. Perfectly good English word “faze”.

    And while we’re giving out lots of personal detail, I have very little body hair – I don’t remove it, I just never grew much. I have facial hair, just very little body hair.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    45 –

    You may be correct, but I don’t know if this is just bad English (like alot versus alot, or use of livid to mean black and blue) versus an Americanism (like how the perfectly good word burgled isn’t used here in favor of the newer word burglarized).

    As someone who ranks around 9 on the 10-point scale of body hairiness (nearly everywhere, but not quite thick enough to be a pelt) I’ve often wondered about the genetics of body hair. Little has been written on it compared to things like hair/eye color, skin color, or skin texture, even though it seems to vary dramatically between different AMH populations.

    FWIW, my beard is actually somewhat sparse, although by the time I turned 30 the mustache finally connected with the rest enough to grow a beard. My brother is if anything hairier than I am, but he never got enough hair on his cheeks to grow a full beard. So perhaps beard and body hair are two traits which often go together in populations but actually are dealt with by different sets of genes.

  • skid

    #44 – Do you remember the stories about silicone masks and bank robberies and such. Here is a link:
    http://articles.latimes.com/2010/dec/08/business/la-fi-mask-20101209

    It’s not written in the article, but those guys were trying to make masks to make women look better. It’d be the best selling product of all time if it worked, right? But it didn’t because the masks increased the size of the head.

  • Grey

    Another thought on the “why” of a mutually opposite sexually selected height preference:

    Take two men, one 5′ 4″ and the other 5′ 10″ both with the ideal height-width ratio for a man and two women, one 5′ 4″ and the other 5′ 10″ both with the ideal height-width ratio for a woman.

    (Assuming there are ideal ratios and the value of the ratio is lower for a woman e.g. 0.7 versus 0.9 for a man.)

    Would the vantage point of the viewer effect their perception of the ratio? Taking the three cases

    1) The 5′ 4″ man and woman standing facing each other or the 5′ 10″ man and woman standing facing each other i.e. looking eye to eye
    2) The 5′ 4″ man and 5′ 10″ woman standing facing each other
    3) The 5′ 10″ man and 5′ 4″ woman standing facing each other

    Does looking *up* have an optical stretching effect on the ratio (good for a man) and looking *down* have an optical compressing effect (good for a woman)?

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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