Sexy Science - Why do women fall for the tall?

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Women seem to prefer taller men and several scientific studies have backed up that notion. But why? And where does it all leave women's love for the high heel?

VICTORIA BECKHAM recently had to use her husband as a crutch because of them, Gwyneth Paltrow revitalised her image wearing them, and Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw is clearly totally in love with them: we're talking ultra-high-heels here. Ladies love sexy stilettos and designer Christian Louboutin has just announced his plans to feed the frenzy by producing the first pair of 8in heels in mainstream fashion. Ouch.

A lot of men clearly find such vampish style provocative and attractive, but it occurs to me that, if this sort of footwear makes its wearer so desirable, where does that leave all the short guys?

We girls like our men to be taller than us. A friend of mine currently scouring dating websites for Mr Right tells me she can't bear the idea of being with a man shorter than her and she rejects the profile of any man under six feet – she's 5ft 10in. But, by my calculation, that means if she wears heels any bigger than two inches she'll be getting uncomfortable with a six-footer. Even wearing Beckham's relatively diminutive five inchers would put most guys out of the running.

Several scientific studies back up the notion that women prefer taller men. But why? What's so great about tall men? Looking back over time, as our preferences were evolving, it is likely that tall men would have had an advantage in competition with others and they would have been better at bringing home the bacon.

Women may also have wanted a big, strapping mate to protect them and their children from harassment by other males.

Even today tall guys seem to have an advantage – they tend to do better in their careers, have higher status and earn more money than their more vertically challenged peers.

If you find yourself attracted to tall men, though, beware; a US study found that taller men were also more likely to get divorced and remarry, and the same research shows this translates into a higher number of children fathered by the loftier chaps. Women, on the other hand, tend to have more babies if they are slightly shorter than the average height of just under 5ft 4in for women, according to another piece of research.

Since men are likely to choose partners shorter than themselves, this could partly come down to a relative shortage of potential boyfriend material for tall women.

The effect of all this has been for the heights of men and women to be pulled in opposite directions over time, meaning that men tend to be a few inches taller than women, on average.

If we cast a glance at our primate cousins, we can see that in gorillas, for example, the males are whoppers – twice the size of females, their stature being driven by the need for males to fight fiercely for exclusive sexual access to a harem of females. In the graceful and relatively peaceful gibbons, on the other hand, males and females are exactly the same size and live in monogamous pairs.

Humans have a degree of body-size difference somewhere in between gorillas and gibbons, so you can draw your own conclusions about what our sexual proclivities should be.

So used are we to men being taller than their wives or girlfriends that we make a huge fuss when some high-profile short guy hooks up with a girl that can look down on him. We wanted to know, for example, did Tom Cruise stand on a box for his marriage portrait with Katie Holmes, who is a good two inches taller than him?

And then there's France's mini-president Nicolas Sarkozy with his willowy wife, Carla Bruni, towering over him even in her flats. No more Louboutins for her, then. Why did Carla go for such a little bloke?

Well, if guys are on the short side, they need to have something else to bring to the mating marketplace. For Sarkozy, it's power. For Cruise it's money. And Rasputin (lover of the Russian queen, according to Boney M, remember), it was his, er, manly endowment.

mairimac5@live.co.uk