Drawing the Short Straw

For individuals who are short in stature, success in some areas can seem like a tall order. Research consistently indicates that tall folks enjoy professional advantages, including higher pay and better odds of career advancement. Taller men also possess an edge in matters of romance, a phenomenon that may have an evolutionary basis. Conversely, however, women with above-average heights may find it harder to attract potential partners. Moreover, lengthy bodies entail additional risks regardless of gender: Studies suggest tall people are more likely to experience a range of medical issues, including cancer and blood clots.

Perhaps people of any height possess distinct advantages. But when it comes to how we feel about our height, how many of us wish we could add or subtract a few inches? We surveyed over 1,000 individuals about their own dimensions and how they might change their height if possible. Our data also reveal the emotional impacts of these height considerations, exploring implications for our romantic prospects and self-esteem. To see where people really stand on being short, tall, or somewhere in between, keep reading.

Inch Envy

Height preferences by gender

If you're not entirely satisfied with your own stature, you're in good company. Two-thirds of men and over 6 in 10 women would prefer to be a different height. That male respondents were more likely to feel dissatisfied with their height raises an important point: Although body image insecurities are sometimes viewed as primarily affecting women, they are nearly as common among men. Sixty percent of men said they'd like to be taller, while less than 7 percent wished to shave off a few inches. Women were slightly more likely than men to wish they were shorter, and the desire to be taller dominated among women as well.

In terms of height ideals, respondents typically desired to be slightly taller than the average for their respective sex. Among women, for example, the average ideal height was roughly 5 feet, 6 inches, whereas the typical American woman stands about 5 feet, 4 inches. For men, the gap between ideal and average heights was roughly an inch taller. Whereas the mean height for American males is 5 feet, 9 inches, men's desired heights ran closer to 6 feet in most cases.

Sex Appeal and Self-Esteem

How height of friends affects self esteem

Among men who identified as taller than most of their friends, confidence ran quite high on romantic matters. Nearly 7 in 10 self-professed tall men regarded themselves as desirable to potential sexual partners, and 65 percent considered themselves attractive. Some studies suggest their confidence is warranted; when asked to assess the attractiveness of men, women do tend to favor taller guys. Yet, the self-assurance of tall men seemed to spill over to non-aesthetic areas as well: They were also most likely to view themselves as funny and express satisfaction with their sex lives if they were taller than their friends.

Among women, the correlation between height and confidence was somewhat less clear. Female respondents who said they were taller than their friends were most likely to identify as attractive, but they were less likely to feel confident around potential partners than women of average height. Indeed, some tall women report body-shaming experiences, including comments implying men would find their height unattractive. Women who saw themselves as shorter than their friends were least likely to feel attractive or confident around possible partners – although they did identify as funny at the highest rates.

Matters of the Heart and Height

Heights of those you're most attracted to by gender

When asked how height influenced their attraction to a potential partner, half of the men surveyed said they preferred to date someone shorter, while a third expressed no preference. Among women, however, feelings were far stronger: Seventy-eight percent said they were most attracted to a taller partner. Apparently, this dynamic isn't lost on men, with 42 percent reporting they'd have better dating opportunities if they were taller. Additionally, 3 in 10 men said a taller person wouldn't want to date them, and 23 percent of women felt people shorter than they wouldn't be interested.

To some extent, these fears were justified by our data: Less than half of short and average-height women said they'd date someone who was shorter than them. But tall women were comparatively flexible, with 61 percent willing to go out with a smaller partner. At all heights, men were considerably less picky about the stature of their potential lovers. More than three-quarters of short, average, and tall men said they'd give dating someone taller a try.

Height of Love

Ideal partner heights by gender

On average, women said the ideal partner height was about 6 feet, whereas men felt 5 foot, 6 inches was most attractive. If these measurements seem familiar, it's because these ideals correspond almost exactly with the heights men and women would select for themselves. While these ideal heights are well above average, some studies suggest we place far less emphasis on height when actually selecting partners. One study of dating app activity found men who stood 5 feet, 8 inches were most likely to receive right swipes, while women who measured 5 feet, 5 inches were the most successful.

Indeed, most respondents in relationships said they wouldn't want to change their partner's height at all. Women were slightly more likely to propose edits, however, with nearly 24 percent suggesting they'd like their partner to be 1 to 3 inches taller. In fact, 12 percent of women said they'd want their significant other to gain 4 inches or more, whereas 7 percent of men wished their partner would become that much taller.

Employment Implications

How height affects your workplace

If height lends an advantage in the realm of romance, it may empower professional confidence to an even greater extent. Among men who were taller than average, for example, more than 71 percent felt confident at work and reported others took them seriously in their careers. Even greater gaps emerged between tall and short men on the subject of salary. Whereas 45 percent of tall men felt they earned what they deserved, just 33 percent of short men said the same. Unfortunately, several studies have shown that physical characteristics can influence earnings: Tall workers typically make hundreds more than their shorter peers.

Among women, the salary satisfaction gap between short and tall individuals was much smaller. This could reflect frustrations with the gender pay gap: Perhaps even tall women are cognizant of the fact that men frequently earn more unjustly. Still, tall women were significantly more likely than short and average-height peers to report feeling successful and taken seriously at work. The largest difference of all concerned confidence: Seventy-two percent of tall women felt confident professionally, but less than 56 percent of short women said the same.

Medical Means

Willingness to surgically alter your height by gender

Medical methods to increase human height do exist: Synthetic growth hormones are frequently administered to help accelerate growth in children, though this treatment can be costly. Additionally, some adults elect to undergo painful surgeries to slowly extend their limbs, but doing so is typically recommended only in cases of medical necessity. Perhaps due to the agony and extended recovery associated with such surgeries, interest in them was relatively limited: The majority of respondents said they wouldn't consider a procedure designed to alter their stature.

There was significant interest among short men, however. Nearly a quarter of men under 5 feet, 9 inches said they'd have the surgery if they could and would pay nearly a third of their total savings to do so. For female respondents of all heights, interest was more limited than among men. In fact, less than 14 percent of women with below-average heights said they'd go under the knife to become taller.

More Important for Men?

Men and how masculinity is changed by height

If their willingness to consider surgery is any indication, men seem especially affected by height-related concerns. Indeed, short men may feel their virility is at stake: Among men 5 foot, 5 inches and shorter, nearly half reported feeling less masculine because of their height. Interestingly, these concerns existed among men of average height as well, with 20 percent reporting feeling emasculated at times. Even 9 percent of men who stood 6 foot, 2 inches and taller said they'd felt insecure about their masculinity due to their height before.

Given these feelings, perhaps it's no surprise many men researched ways to address this insecurity. More than a fifth of men who were shorter than average admitted to looking up solutions designed to change their height. Within this short cohort, over 15 percent had considered taking testosterone to add a couple of inches, although doing so would more likely provide muscle than vertical growth.

Happiness at Any Height

Our data indicate that one's height can serve as a source of either enduring self-assurance or deep insecurity. But perhaps the significance we attach to height simply reveals a larger challenge: our instinct to compare ourselves to others. Too often, we interpret our differences in terms of inferiority, harshly scrutinizing appearances. If others are judging us on the basis of height alone, perhaps we shouldn't be so concerned with impressing them in the first place. After all, much of what makes life worth living can't be measured in inches.

No matter how tall you stand, you deserve a life of vigorous well-being. While you might not be able to alter your height, it's never too late to take better care of yourself. At BodyLogicMD, our network of experienced physicians can tailor medical solutions to your particular needs, helping you achieve passion and energy at any age. Don't sell yourself short – explore our services today to learn how we can help you thrive.


To compile the data for the information shown above, we surveyed 1,105 Americans using Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Because the data are reliant on self-reported data, we can only rely on what individuals reported. Average heights for men and women were identified using national averages. To ensure a proper sample size for relationship and attraction questions, only responses from heterosexual people were considered. Every effort was made to ensure the integrity of the data, and we have no reason to believe participants were lying or making up answers.


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