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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The National Child Development Study is carried out by the researchers of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education, London. The data are housed at the Data Archive of the University of Essex, from where they were obtained under license for the present study. I am grateful to Paul Preece for his assistance with data processing, and to Benjamin Campbell and two anonymous referees for invaluable advice which has, I hope, improved the quality of this paper.
Daniel Nettle is lecturer in biological psychology at the Open University. With a first degree in psychology and a Ph.D. in biological anthropology, his work has been concerned with the application of evolutionary models to such topics as language (e.g., Linguistic Diversity, Oxford University Press, 1999) and individual differences (Strong Imagination, Oxford University Press, 2001).
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Nettle, D. Height and reproductive success in a cohort of british men. Hum Nat 13, 473–491 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-002-1004-7
- Human evolution
- Mate choice
- Reproductive success