Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes in December 2011. Photo: Getty
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Short men make better boyfriends and husbands

They’re less likely to divorce and they do an extra hour of housework each week.

Last year, Ann Friedman called on women everywhere to overthrow “the last acceptable dating prejudice” and give short men a chance. At 6’2”, she can’t restrict her dating pool to taller men, and she’s discovered that short men aren’t – shockingly – that bad: In fact, she writes, if a man is willing to go out with a taller woman, there’s a good chance he’s also secure enough to accept a woman who’s “competitive and outgoing and career-oriented”.

While Psychology Today kindly offers that women don’t “quite” see short men as “lepers”, Friedman is more accepting than most. When a 5’4” blogger added five inches to his height on his OkCupid profile, his response rate jumped from 16 to 29 per cent. In a more methodologically sound experiment, a pair of sociologists found that 48.9 per cent of women restricted their online dating searches to men who were taller than them. (Men were less picky: Just 13.5 per cent wouldn’t consider a taller woman.) Out of all 925 people, only three left the “desired height” category blank. When the same team took a survey of 181 college students, 29 per cent of women said they would feel “awkward” or “weird” dating a shorter guy, and both men and women in this sample were even more exacting about height: more than half of the women – 55 per cent – said they only wanted to date men who were taller, and 37 per cent of men said they would only go out with women who were shorter.

But a preliminary new study suggests that shorter men might actually make better partners: They do a greater share of housework, earn a greater proportion of household income, and are less likely than their taller peers to get divorced. In a working paper (it has not yet been peer reviewed), Dalton Conley, a sociologist at NYU, and Abigail Weitzman, a phD candidate, used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics – a University of Michigan project that’s been collecting demographic data on 5,000 families for almost 50 years – to look at how a man’s height impacts different areas of his relationship after the initial dating period.

They looked at two sets of data, from 1986 and 2009, and identified 3,033 heterosexual couples. (They restricted their sample to men between the ages of 23 and 45 cohabiting with a woman.) The men ranged in height from 4’6” to 7 feet; their height, in relation to their partners', ranged from 9 inches shorter to two feet taller. They categorised the men into three groups: “Short” men were defined as 5’6” or less in 1986, 5’7” or below in 2009; “tall” men were at least 6’1” in 1986 and 6’2” in 2009.

Short men turned out to be somewhat less likely to get married: at every age before 45, they marry at a rate 18 per cent lower than men of average height. “Short men may have a harder time getting married because they’re viewed as less masculine,” says Weitzman. “Women who have traditional gender ideals may find that less desirable.” If they do find a partner, though, they’re less likely to get divorced: divorce rates for tall and average men were basically indistinguishable, but 32 per cent lower for short men. Weitzman explains this by saying that women who are “resistant” to marrying short men are more likely to “opt out” before it gets to the point of marriage: “There’s something distinct about the women who marry short men.”

Or maybe it’s just that short men make better partners. They do a greater share of housework: On average, they perform 8 hours and 28 minutes per week of housework – constituting about 28 per cent of the total – compared to 7 hours 38 minutes for average men and 7 hours 30 minutes for tall men. And they’re more likely to be the breadwinners: Conley and Weitzman estimate that 78 per cent of short men out-earn their partners, compared to 69 per cent of average men and 71 per cent of tall men. Although other research has suggested that taller men earn more – perhaps because of employers’ biases – they didn’t find evidence of income disparity among the different height groups. Tall men may be, in Weitzman’s words, “aware of the status that is conferred by their tallness” – which might make them less motivated to pitch in at home.  

Short men are more likely to partner with women who are older and less educated. Twenty-one per cent of the short men in the sample coupled with women who had not completed high school, compared with 16 per cent of average men and just 12 per cent of tall men: Overall, short men are 75 per cent more likely to couple with someone who hasn’t graduated from high school. Across the whole sample, only 9 per cent of men partnered with a woman who was more than three years older, but these men were likely to come from the short cohort. “Short men may be considered immature, and one way they could get around this threat to their masculinity would be by partnering with women who are younger than them,” said Weitzman. “Tall men don't necessarily have that same threat and may feel more comfortable partnering with women who are older than them.” That doesn’t sound so far from Friedman’s argument.

This article first appeared on newrepublic.com

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Forget fake news on Facebook – the real filter bubble is you

If people want to receive all their news from a single feed that reinforces their beliefs, there is little that can be done.

It’s Google that vaunts the absurdly optimistic motto “Don’t be evil”, but there are others of Silicon Valley’s techno-nabobs who have equally high-flown moral agendas. Step forward, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, who responded this week to the brouhaha surrounding his social media platform’s influence on the US presidential election thus: “We are all blessed to have the ability to make the world better, and we have the responsibility to do it. Let’s go work even harder.”

To which the only possible response – if you’re me – is: “No we aren’t, no we don’t, and I’m going back to my flowery bed to cultivate my garden of inanition.” I mean, where does this guy get off? It’s estimated that a single message from Facebook caused about 340,000 extra voters to pitch up at the polls for the 2010 US congressional elections – while the tech giant actually performed an “experiment”: showing either positive or negative news stories to hundreds of thousands of their members, and so rendering them happier or sadder.

In the past, Facebook employees curating the site’s “trending news” section were apparently told to squash stories that right-wingers might “like”, but in the run-up to the US election the brakes came off and all sorts of fraudulent clickbait was fed to the denizens of the virtual underworld, much – but not all of it – generated by spurious alt-right “news sites”.

Why? Because Facebook doesn’t view itself as a conventional news provider and has no rubric for fact-checking its news content: it can take up to 13 hours for stories about Hillary Clinton eating babies barbecued for her by Barack Obama to be taken down – and in that time Christ knows how many people will have not only given them credence, but also liked or shared them, so passing on the contagion. The result has been something digital analysts describe as a “filter bubble”, a sort of virtual helmet that drops down over your head and ensures that you receive only the sort of news you’re already fit to be imprinted with. Back in the days when everyone read the print edition of the New York Times this sort of manipulation was, it is argued, quite impossible; after all, the US media historically made a fetish of fact-checking, an editorial process that is pretty much unknown in our own press. Why, I’ve published short stories in American magazines and newspapers and had fact-checkers call me up to confirm the veracity of my flights of fancy. No, really.

In psychology, the process by which any given individual colludes in the creation of a personalised “filter bubble” is known as confirmation bias: we’re more inclined to believe the sort of things that validate what we want to believe – and by extension, surely, these are likely to be the sorts of beliefs we want to share with others. It seems to me that the big social media sites, while perhaps blowing up more and bigger filter bubbles, can scarcely be blamed for the confirmation bias. Nor – as yet – have they wreaked the sort of destruction on the world that has burst from the filter bubble known as “Western civilisation” – one that was blown into being by the New York Times, the BBC and all sorts of highly respected media outlets over many decades.

Societies that are both dominant and in the ascendant always imagine their belief systems and the values they enshrine are the best ones. You have only to switch on the radio and hear our politicians blithering on about how they’re going to get both bloodthirsty sides in the Syrian Civil War to behave like pacifist vegetarians in order to see the confirmation bias hard at work.

The Western belief – which has its roots in imperialism, but has bodied forth in the form of liberal humanism – that all is for the best in the world best described by the New York Times’s fact-checkers, is also a sort of filter bubble, haloing almost all of us in its shiny and translucent truth.

Religion? Obviously a good-news feed that many billions of the credulous rely on entirely. Science? Possibly the biggest filter bubble there is in the universe, and one that – if you believe Stephen Hawking – has been inflating since shortly before the Big Bang. After all, any scientific theory is just that: a series of observable (and potentially repeatable) regularities, a bubble of consistency we wander around in, perfectly at ease despite its obvious vulnerability to those little pricks, the unforeseen and the contingent. Let’s face it, what lies behind most people’s beliefs is not facts, but prejudices, and all this carping about algorithms is really the howling of a liberal elite whose own filter bubble has indeed been popped.

A television producer I know once joked that she was considering pitching a reality show to the networks to be called Daily Mail Hate Island. The conceit was that a group of ordinary Britons would be marooned on a desert island where the only news they’d have of the outside world would come in the form of the Daily Mail; viewers would find themselves riveted by watching these benighted folk descend into the barbarism of bigotry as they absorbed ever more factitious twaddle. But as I pointed out to this media innovator, we’re already marooned on Daily Mail Hate Island: it’s called Britain.

If people want to receive all their news from a single feed that constantly and consistently reinforces their beliefs, what are you going to do about it? The current argument is that Facebook’s algorithms reinforce political polarisation, but does anyone really believe better editing on the site will return our troubled present to some prelap­sarian past, let alone carry us forward into a brave new factual future? No, we’re all condemned to collude in the inflation of our own filter bubbles unless we actively seek to challenge every piece of received information, theory, or opinion. And what an exhausting business that would be . . . without the internet.

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 November 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Blair: out of exile