'Average' height yields most children

From left: John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett
Image caption What role does height have in the number of children?

Women might dream of tall, dark and handsome, but researchers are claiming that it is men of average height who are having the most children.

Scientists studying men in the US said those who were 178cm (5ft 10in) were the most reproductively successful.

Writing in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology, they said such men produced, on average, more than two-and-a-half children.

The authors said it might be due to men of average height marrying earlier.

There have been studies which suggest that women prefer a taller man, such as those looking at the choices made during speed or online dating.

Gert Stulp, one of the researchers at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, said that in Western societies it had been thought that taller men also had the most children.

He reviewed previous studies on height and children as well as publishing new data from the Wisconsin Study, which followed school leavers in 1957 for the next 50 years. There was data on 3,578 men.

Most children

The peak number of children, 2.57, was found in men who were 177.79cm. Men who were 6cm taller or shorter (coming in at approximately 5ft 7in or 6ft) had 2.52 children. Going another 6cm away from the peak gave 2.36 children on average.

Mr Stulp told the BBC: "Contrary to popular belief, tall men do not have most reproductive success. It is average-height men who have the most reproductive success."

In the study of US men, it seems one possible explanation is in the marriage data.

"It really seems average height men get a partner earlier than both shorter and taller men, so this is a possible mechanism.

"Even though preference studies seem to indicate that taller men are preferred, maybe in real life with actual partner choice, average height men have the most success. Basically they are able to marry at a younger age."

However, the authors pointed out that: "The effect of height was modest, being almost three times smaller than the effect of income and 4.5 times smaller than the effect of education."

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