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Beatrice Alba does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. Not only do women want taller men; they seem to favour a bigger height difference than men. This in turn may have shaped our culture, and the norms that reinforce the expectation that a man should be taller than his female partner.

: The evolutionary history of men and women should not prevent us from seeking gender equality. Sexual dimorphism — where one sex is substantially larger or otherwise different in appearance to the other — is common among animals. In some species — such as spiders , including the Australian red back — the female is larger than the male.

But in mammals, including us humans, it is often the male who is larger. Among our closest living relatives — the chimpanzee, gorilla and orangutan — males are bigger than females. They are physically stronger, and have larger, sharper canine teeth. While such characteristics benefit males in competition with one another, they also enable them to physically and sexually dominate females. Besides the preference for height, women also tend to show a preference for indicators of dominance in men, such as physical strength and masculine facial features.

The controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson goes as far as claiming that women hate harmless men. Large, dominant men can offer greater protection to their partners and children from other men, and were likely to have been better providers of food and other resources throughout our evolutionary history. This suggests that it is adaptive, in evolutionary terms, for women to be attracted to such men and to choose them as partners. : Do women take their husband's surname after marriage because of biology? Research supporting this argument has found that women with a higher fear of crime are more likely to prefer physically formidable and dominant males.

In addition, women who score lower on dominance show a stronger preference for taller men. Unfortunately, the preference for larger and more dominant men comes with a cost. Such men, while they might protect their partners from other men, also present the risk of turning their aggression onto their partners. By choosing larger and more dominant men, women potentially become more vulnerable to physical and sexual domination by their partner.

Crime statistics show that the majority of intimate partner murder victims are female. It simply describes how physical and psychological characteristics become more common if they help an organism pass on its genes. The desire in females for tall, dominant males is just likely to have been a successful way of propagating genes, even before Homo sapiens evolved.

Although we are not blind to the benefits of size, these sexual and romantic preferences are not determined by conscious choice, nor are they always rational or desirable. So the fact that women prefer male partners who can — and often do — dominate them does not mean that women want to be dominated. The genetic payoff over evolutionary time for producing offspring with such men has simply been greater than any genetic costs of being dominated by them. Women risk aggression from their partners as part of a strategy to counteract the threat of violence from other men.

While our biologically based preferences are largely outside our conscious control, they do not rigidly determine our behaviour or render us incapable of acting otherwise. We can resist our impulses and urges, and make reasoned choices about how we behave.

Our biology shapes our culture, and culture does its part to reinforce our biology. Even in the modern world we continue to perpetuate cultural norms that place value on greater height and dominance in men, and on slightness and submission in women. : To achieve gender equality, we must first tackle our unconscious biases.

And culture is not fixed — as shown by the progress that society has already made towards gender equality. We can foster values that purposefully compensate for the flaws in our nature. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. The cliche tells us that women go for men who are tall, dark and handsome. Beatrice Alba , La Trobe University. Fortunately, we can change our culture.

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