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Does Size Matter?

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

According to Rebecca Sear and Frank Marlowe (2009), not to Hadza women. For the record, as used here, the word “size” means “height”. If you were thinking something more explicitly sexual (like penis size), it might matter. 40% of Hadza women report valuing looks in a mate (which in the just-linked survey includes a category labelled “good genitals”). But in regard to our specific question, Sear & Marlowe found that the proportion of female-taller marriages among the Hadza did not differ from chance expectations and that any reference to a man’s body size was mostly absent in Hadza women’s elaborations of what they looked for in a husband. Given that Hadza women tend to have more say in marriage decisions, this suggests that height is not viewed as particularly important to women in this society. This article has been attracting some attention – and the discussion has been mostly worthwhile and constructive. I think two things should be emphasized. The first is that this sort of data does not challenge a thoughtful and scientific approach to evolutionary psychology. Genes can influence behavior without reaching the comprehensive level of instinct. Counterexamples can inform, but do not end the discussion. The second is that this sort of data does present challenges both to some rather strong specific assertions about human male height in recent research (Nettle, 2005), (Pawlowski, et.al., 2000), (Mueller & Mazur, 2002) and to the sometimes found tendency to over interpret the evolutionary causes of specific data sets.

Strengths

  • This study is part of a very thoughtful approach to studying evolutionary anthropology.
  • The Hadza continue to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Cautions

  • It is possible that the Hadza are atypical in their approach to male height – since they are closely related to pygmy populations:with males averaging about 160 cm in height (5’3″), with less variation in height than in most other populations.

Wayne Hooke

Image courtesy of Idobi/Wikipedia Commons (2007)

 

ResearchBlogging.orgSear, R., & Marlowe, F. (2009). How universal are human mate choices? Size does not matter when Hadza foragers are choosing a mate Biology Letters, 5 (5), 606-609 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0342

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  1. steve
    July 16, 2011 at 5:57 am

    This is interesting. I’m not an expert in the area, but suspect the Hadzu are atypical as the ratio of mean male to female height is relatively constant in other cultures.

    Two friends happen to be extremely tall women (6’3 and 6’7). By most measures both are very attractive, but they have real problems finding and keeping boyfriends. The bias against taller women is very strong in the US and finding a large enough sample of taller men who meet their other criteria has proven to be difficult. One of them did a bit of amateur research that tried to probe the level of height compromise taller women might have – essentially extending other work that excludes the tails of height curves. She didn’t have enough data to say anything with conviction, but their appears to be a level of compromise that maybe a function of height.

    One wonders what happens on the other side of the table – short men?

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