11:17pm Friday 22 September 2017

Taller Indian women are more successful on the marriage market

Height is thus important for Indian women! This is not surprising, for taller women are healthier.

Indian womenHeight is a salient trait that signals strength, health potential and having experienced a more prosperous childhood. It therefore comes as no surprise that being tall has consistently been found a favourable characteristic at the marriage market for men. But how about women? As taller women are on average healthier, give birth more easily and have healthier children than shorter women, we would expect them to be more successful at the marriage market too. Yet this seems to depend on time and place, sometimes height seems to matter and sometimes it does not. 

Poor country? Then health is more important
Sociologists Jeroen Smits and Christiaan Monden expected women’s height to be more important under difficult circumstances. In many low income countries, maternal and child mortality is still very high. In those countries, traits signalling female health are more likely to play a role than in high income countries, where very few women die during delivery and where child mortality is all time low. To test this idea, Smits and Monden analyzed data from India, where 75 percent of the population still earn less than two dollar a day and maternal and child mortality are with 4.5 and 72 per 1000 still very high. What did they find? The average height of adult Indian women is 152 cm. The 10 percent shortest women (under 145 cm) had a 35 percent lower odds of marrying at all than the 10 percent tallest women (over 159 cm). Those shortest women also had a 14 percent higher odds of marrying at a young age (below 17) than the tallest women.

Taller women get better husbands
The 10 percent tallest women married husbands who, on average, had completed half a year of schooling more than the husbands of the 10 percent smallest women. In a country where men on average have seven years of education, this is a substantial difference. The tallest women also had a 28 percent higher odds of being married to a husband with a high-level occupation and they had a 40 percent lower odds of being divorced and a 14 percent lower odds of becoming widowed. This last result indicates that the husbands they marry are healthier than those of the shortest women  as well.

How general are these findings?
It remains to be seen to what extent these Indian results are also valid for other countries. Other studies indicate that in high income Western countries, female height plays less of a role at the marriage market. For low income countries, few studies are available and the picture appearing from them is mixed. Further research is therefore needed on the circumstances under which female height is more or less important.

Jeroen Smits en Christiaan Monden, ‘Taller Indian women are more successful at the marriage market’. American Journal of Human Biology, Early View,  DOI 10.1002/ajhb.22248 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajhb.22248/pdf

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