G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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At The Atlantic, Philip Cohen finds a difference between the height gap between randomly selected men and women and the height gap between heterosexual couples:
But the safer bet is just to match up according to the height norm. A new study from Britain—which I learned of from the blogger Neuroskeptic—measured the height of the parents of about 19,000 babies born in 2000. They found that the woman was taller in 4.1 percent of cases. Then they compared the couples in the data to the pattern found if you scrambled up those same men and women and matched them together at random. In that random set, the woman was taller in 6.5 percent of cases. That means couples are more often man-taller, woman-shorter than would be expected by chance. Is that a big difference? I can explain.
Cohen continues and conducts his own similar analysis:
Now we can see that from same-height up to “man 7 to 8 inches taller”, there are more couples than we would expect by chance. And below same-height—where the wife is taller—we see fewer in the population than we would expect by chance. (There also are relatively few couples at the man-much-taller end of the spectrum—at 9 inches or greater—where the difference apparently becomes awkward, a pattern also seen in the British study.)
To put numbers on it, in his random sample, 7.8% of pairings had a wife that was taller than the husband. In the actual sample, reverse dimorphism existed for only 3.8% of couples. So we see that the size of the gap in the US and in Britain are very close and in the same direction.
At Jezebel, Tracy Moore accepts all of this but casts the implications aside as both “no big deal, why does anybody care anyway?” and with a nod to social constructionism. The former is a self-defense mechanism in case her latter theory doesn’t pan out:
Individually, this can be chalked up to taste, but on the whole, it can be chalked up to cultural constructs. Why does having a dude be six inches taller feel so romantically right? Why are we still hung up on six inches of height difference? Are men more hung up on it, or women?
Either way, it’s because we’re still hung up on old notions of femininity and masculinity, and what they mean. In other words, men are bigger and stronger, and women are smaller and more petite, and we’d prefer our romantic relationships reflect that.
Cohen seems to buy the social construction argument as well:
What difference does it make? When people—and here I’m thinking especially of children—see men and women together, they form impressions about their relative sizes and abilities. Because people’s current matching process cuts in half the number of woman-taller pairings, our thinking is skewed that much more toward assuming men are bigger.
The animal kingdom and, more precisely, primates would seem to hold the key to this argument. Feminists and sociologists ignore that possibility because even though evolution is a real thing and you’re stupid if you don’t believe it, somehow the preferences and choices of other animals can’t tell us anything about ourselves.
Are the actual body mass differentials – a better comparison for animals than for humans since our bipedalism emphasizes the height differential over other dimorphic expressions – between male and female chimp or gorilla or bonobo pairings larger than we’d expect by random chance? If so then there is a mechanism, a force, compounding on the existing mass gap. And that force would be something different than what feminists and sociologists call social or cultural construction. This all gets back to the alpha/beta dichotomy and the dreaded evolutionary psychology. Other human societies probably also exhibit this skew towards a preference for an extreme height gap.
I’ve looked for analyses similar to Cohen’s used for non-human primates or other animals but didn’t come across any. If anyone has knowledge on this subject or relevant links, please share.