Judge by the Heart, not Height

Published January 21, 1982. One of the things most of us would like to believe is husbands and wives are chosen because of romantic love. Dozens of articles and books have been written on mate selection, and love is one crucial factor in deciding to marry. But it is obvious there are numerous other trends in choosing a spouse that have nothing to do with love. One of these is the mating gradient.

The mating gradient suggests that men tend to marry “down” and women tend to marry “up” in certain characteristics, including age and height. Put another way, men tend to marry women who are smaller and younger. Conversely, women seem to marry men who are taller and older.

In his book “The Individual, Marriage, and the Family,” Lloyd Saxton gives some additional psychological reasons for the mating gradient.

He notes, “The adolescent male, who has been conditioned to be submissive to females during childhood and even in early adolescence, is expected to assume the adult masculine role of dominance in male-female relations. During childhood, his mother and his generally female teachers are dominant figures. In early adolescence, his female contemporaries are bigger and more aggressive than he.”

Saxton continues, “By mid-adolescence, however, the male has passed the female in physical size and strength. In his dating and mate selection processes, he is now expected to assume a dominant role, reflecting his new status as an adult. Thus, the tendency of the male to prefer females who are smaller and younger.”

In this day of male-female equality, some may question whether or not the above still does or should occur. But before we cast stones for these trends on the male sector, we must realize that women, particularly young women, tend to promote the male dominance phenomena by following the mating gradient sometimes more rigidly than males.

For example, in one study by Landis and Landis, 83 percent of the women stated they preferred husbands with more education than themselves. Furthermore, demographic data suggests that in first marriages, approximately 85 percent of the husbands are older than their wives. And it is my own observation that 90-95 percent of wives are shorter than their husband.

All of these trends may have some rationale. But the one that would appear to have the least significance on the stability or satisfaction of a marriage would be the height factor. Why do husbands have to be taller than wives?

Many young women tell me they want a husband they “can look up to” in a literal way. In addition, others tell me they feel more feminine if their husband or date is larger and taller. And some students suggest that men, in general, just happen to be taller than women.

While this may or may not be true for any given age category, the fact remains that many men are hesitant to marry or even date women taller than themselves. And women are equally or even more reluctant to marry or date shorter men.

Should height be a major factor in choosing a marriage partner? Not necessarily, but it will likely continue to be one. And because of this, many adequate and willing men and women may be passed by for marriage because they happen to be a few inches too short or too tall as the case may be.

Hundreds of years ago the following was recorded in the Bible: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1st Samuel 16:7).

This advice still seems relevant.

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