Don't Want No Short Short Man

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
July 28 2009 11:45 AM

Don't Want No Short Short Man


The modern equivalent of blaming Eve for the fall of mankind may be blaming Stone Age societies for today's gender relations. Sharon Begley has a nice summary of this attitude in her recent Newsweek story on evolutionary psychology:


Men who were promiscuous back then were more evolutionarily fit, the researchers reasoned, since men who spread their seed widely left more descendants. By similar logic, evolutionary psychologists argued, women who were monogamous were fitter; by being choosy about their mates and picking only those with good genes, they could have healthier children. Men attracted to young, curvaceous babes were fitter because such women were the most fertile; mating with dumpy, barren hags is not a good way to grow a big family tree.

So if all of this is true, it should be true for all humankind. It should especially be true in modern hunting and gathering societies. Unfortunately, as Begley details in her article, the evidence rarely bears out the these theories. (I am aware that not all evolutionary psychologist are obsessed with cavemen sex , but here I have chosen sensationalism over dry talk of spandrels . Sorry.)

One of the strongest trends in modern mating is women's preference for taller males. In post-industrial cultures, there are far fewer women married to men that are shorter than them than would be expected by statistical chance. Are women hard-wired to think that taller men would kill way more giraffes than shorter men, thus providing a luxurious Stone Age lifestyle? How better to test this than to look at a society that actually hunts giraffes?

The Hadza of Tanzania are among the few hunter-gatherer people left on earth. Despite threats from agriculturalists, diminishing game, and an Emirati land grab , the Hadza have maintained their traditional lifestyle. To see if actual hunter-gatherers had height preferences in their mates, Rebecca Sear and Frank W. Marlowe examined mate selection in the Hadza . They also wanted to see if the Hadza married people that had similar physical characteristics to themselves-for example, did tall, thin Hadza marry other tall, thin Hadza?

The Hadza proved to be far less judgemental about height than the Western press . There was no evidence of height preference: About as many women were married to shorter men as would have been expected by random chance. There was also no correlation between the couples' height, weight, BMI, or percent body fat. Sear and Marlowe concluded that "mating is random with respect to size in this population."

Why don't the Hadza care about height? Sear and Marlowe speculated that since the Hadza live in small, homogenous communities, they could make decisions based on the entire health history of a potential partner, obviating the need for height as a proxy of health . Or height might actually be a disadvantage in a food-limited society, since large people require more food. Though this study doesn't explain why Westerners value male height so highly, it does illustrate the peril of assuming that human preferences are set in Stone Age stone.


Photograph of a tall couple by David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images.


The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

Walmart Is Crushing the Rest of Corporate America in Adopting Solar Power

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.