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Height and reproductive success in a cohort of british men

by Daniel Nettle
Human Nature ()

Abstract

Two recent studies have shown a relationship between male height and number of offspring in contemporary developed-world populations. One of them argues as a result that directional selection for male tallness is both positive and unconstrained. This paper uses data from a large and socially representative national cohort of men who were born in Britain in March 1958. Taller men were less likely to be childless than shorter ones. They did not have a greater mean number of children. If anything, the pattern was the reverse, since men from higher socioeconomic groups tended to be taller and also to have smaller families. However, clear evidence was found that men who were taller than average were more likely to find a long-term partner, and also more likely to have several different long-term partners. This confirms the finding that tall men are considered more attractive and suggests that, in a noncontracepting environment, they would have more children. There is also evidence of stabilizing selection, since extremely tall men had an excess of health problems and an increased likelihood of childlessness. The conclusion is that male tallness has been selected for in recent human evolution but has been constrained by developmental factors and stabilizing selection on the extremely tall.

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