Don't Want No Short Short Man!!: Human Height Variation

A note from the authors:

the following is a draft proposal written as partial fulfillment of a course taken at Miami University. the authors would like to make it abundantly clear that the following is a proposal, offered for public viewing by our professor as part of the project requirement. a link to our final report can be found at

additionally, this "research" was assigned and conducted when both of us were sophomores at university. we are in no way experts on the topic. most important, we have no control over the content submitted to the message board. we hope that people would use the opportunity to discuss matters related to human height variation and not resort to using the forum to provoke violence and perpetuate oppressions. we encourage you to read our final proposal and the resulting messages. and, finally, we encourage further dialogue both on and off the forum.

thank you.

DON’T WANT NO SHORT SHORT MAN!!: Human Height Variation

We believe that, at least in this society, taller people are generally given more respect, are thought of as more attractive and intelligent, and command more respect than shorter people. Biology also has said that it is better to be taller. Bigger is indeed better! There are various factors affecting people’s heights. “The ultimate size and shape that a child attains as an adult is the result of a continuous interaction between the genetical and environmental influences during the whole period of growth” (Eveleth, 176). The most obvious factor affecting height is heredity. Another factor which is attributed to height variation is ethnic origin. For example, there is evidence that the closer or further away one is from the equator affects body size (Molnar, 137). Other factors such as nutrition, climate, and disease also contribute to growth variation.

It is difficult, however, to sort out the genetic influences from the environment even though most growth differences appear to be environmental.... Because of a population’s history of enduring marginal diets for a many generations, it is possible that there has been natural selection for individuals who can best subsist under conditions and may adapt by slower, prolonged, growth (Molnar, 163).

It seems to make sense both biologically and socially to be taller. Throughout evolution, the ‘human’ species has been getting taller. Granted, this fact is due to spinal columns becoming more erect. But, perhaps humans associate greater height with being better because higher intelligence, as was height, a result of evolution. According to Jim Foley’s Hominid Species ( the oldest known hominid species was the Ardipithecus ramidus. They lived 4.4 million years ago and measured 4’ tall. The Australopithecus afarensis lived 3.9-3.0 million years ago and were 3’6”-5’ tall. Also, in this species, men were significantly taller than women. Homo habilis who lived 2.4-1.5 million years ago averaged 5’ tall. Finally, Homo sapiens neanderthanlensis men who lived 230,000-30,000 years ago measured 5’6”. There are biological reasons why it is better to be taller. For instance, shorter women tend to have children with lower birth weights. Also, in the case of extreme shortness such as dwarfism, health is a frequent topic of discussion at local, regional, and national meetings. Achondroplastic dwarfs commonly experience “orthopedic problems, including bowleg deformity and spinal problems...” (Ablon, 77). On the average, males tend to be larger than females, and in most societies, men hold the power. Height is therefore associated with power. Accordingly, because women are shorter, they are seen as inferior and are therefore not given the power. The Perceptual and Motor Skills journal performed a study showing that the four “great” U.S. presidents (as listed in a Murray-Blessing poll) were significantly taller than the four considered “failures.” According to Little People in America by Joan Ablon, Americans tend to vote for taller political candidates. Height has also been named as near top of the list in traits people value when choosing a mate (Ablon, 27). In our society, many men and women still hold to the traditional ideals that men should be dominant and aggressive, and women should be passive and unaggressive. These people (assuming they’re heterosexual) would tend to look for a mate with the according height; men look for women who are shorter than them because society says they should be more powerful than their mate. Height demonstrates this, and vice-versa with women (we do not claim, of course, that these are necessarily the conscious thoughts people have, but they can hold true nonetheless). This is an interesting aspect of height, because though society says height is good as far as power, respect, intelligence, etc., society says that women should be shorter for their male counterparts. Once again, society tells women that their access to power is and should be limited. Secord and Jourard performed a study on male attitudes toward body size. Their studies showed that body characteristics pertaining to “masculinity” is related to the size of body parts. Because masculinity was desired, large body size was therefore also the ideal. The presence or absence of large size resulted in positive or negative feelings about the self. Obviously, large size was correlated with positive feelings, vice-versa for small size. Other studies have corroborated these findings (Ablon, 27). There have been studies showing that height can affect socioeconomic status, social mobility, and employment; and vice versa. For instance, in British adults, manual and non-manual classes have a height difference of 3 cm in men and 2 cm in women (Eveleth & Tanner, 199). Also, according to Phyllis Eveleth and James Tanner, “children from families belonging to the high or middle socio-economic groups in nearly all countries are on average larger in body size than their coevals in the lower economic groups” (Eveleth & Tanner, 198). Once again according to Ablon, Americans tend to hire and give better pay to taller men because they perceive those who are taller as being more intelligent, trustworthy and worthy of respect. One final approach to looking at positive and negative societal correlations with height are idioms. Common phrases such as “looking up” to someone, holding in “high” regard, “big” man on campus, etc. are all positives traits and expressions in our society. On the other hand, “looking down” on someone, talking “down,” possessing “short-comings,” etc. are all negatives traits whose origins are associated with height. All the aspects of height we have discussed here can be looked at evolutionarily and societally. If height yields power, money and status, then it makes sense that the trait which causes a person to receive these rewards would be passed on evolutionarily.
We want to perform a survey using college-aged students as our sample. The survey will consist of the following questions:

1)Male or female?
2)Your height?
3)Have you ever dated someone shorter than yourself?
4)Would you ever date someone shorter than yourself?
5)If two candidates for a job had exactly the same
qualifications (assuming the job had no built in advantages
or requirements for size), do you think the 6’ person would
be given it or the 5’ 6” person?
6)If you had the choice, would you be taller, shorter or the
same (indicate amount of change if applicable)? Why?
7)Do you believe society favors height? If so, how?
8)Do you believe it is better biologically to be taller?

We will analyze our survey to see whether or not it
supports our theory that society values height and devalues
a lack thereof, and whether or not this phenomenon has a
biological origin.


Ablon, Joan. Little People In America: The Social
Dimensions of Dwarfism. New York: Praeger Publishers,
Eveleth, Phyllis B. & Tanner, James M. Worldwide Variation
in Human Growth. Second Edition. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Molnar, Stephen. Human Variation: Races, Tyupes, and
Ethnic Groups. Third Edition. New Jersey: Prentice
Hall, 1992.
Foley, Jim. (

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