Spend five minutes on any dating app and you’re bound to find someone who, among the laundry list of qualities they desire in a potential partner, has a very specific view about one particular aspect of human physiology: height. A study looked at people’s preferences for height in romantic partners and found some notable differences between men and women – but overall, it looks like everyone needs to dial back their expectations a little bit.
An international team of researchers recruited a sample of over 500 people aged between 15 and 77 from Canada, Cuba, Norway, and the US. As well as having their own heights measured, the participants were asked about their height preferences for both short-term and long-term relationships.
They were shown simple drawings of male and female bodies with labeled heights, and asked to choose their preferred height for a partner of either sex (93 percent of the sample reported their sexuality as heterosexual). They were permitted to select multiple answers if they felt strongly that several height options would be equally preferable, but this only happened a tiny fraction of the time (2.6 percent).
Within the sample, the average height of male participants was 178 centimeters (5 feet 10 inches), while for female participants it was 165 centimeters (5 feet 5 inches).
When the results were in, it was clear that most people could stand to revise their expectations when it comes to the height of their potential paramour. Men on average preferred women who were not only shorter than them, but also 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) shorter than the average height for women in their respective countries. Meanwhile, the women on average wanted men to be taller than them, and indeed 2.3 centimeters (0.9 inches) taller than the average height for men where they are.
For men, there was also a curious difference when it came to short-term versus long-term relationships: they preferred more petite women for shorter-term liaisons compared with longer-term commitments.
Preferences for physical height have been observed within many different cultures, but prior to this study, less was known about whether height preference would change as a function of the length of a relationship.
“These results provide preliminary evidence that, in addition to mate preferences for other physical traits related to mate quality such as masculinity in the body, face, and voice, assortative preferences for height do vary as a function of expected relationship length, but this was surprisingly only observed in preferences for female height,” the researchers write in their paper.
Some of the limitations of the study include the fact that visual representations of height were used, as opposed to natural interactions with real people, which could produce different results. Future work might also seek to include participants from a broader range of countries. It’s also worth noting that the participants taking part in the US did so via an online platform and self-reported their own heights, rather than having them directly measured by the researchers.
It's natural that humans will have preferences about all sorts of characteristics in a potential mate, and height is just one example of this. But the next time you’re filling out an online dating profile, it might just be worth looking up the average height in your country first. Just to make sure you’re not totally off-base.
The study is published in Frontiers in Psychology.