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 In a working paper (it has not yet been peer reviewed), Dalton Conley, a sociologist at NYU, and Abigail Weitzman, a phD candidate, used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics – a University of Michigan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

Davide Restivo at Wikimedia Commons
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Scientists have finally said it: alcohol causes cancer

Enough of "linked" and "attributable": a new paper concludes that alcohol directly causes seven types of cancer.

I don't blame you if you switch off completely at the words "causes cancer". If you pay attention to certain publications, everything from sunbeds, to fish, to not getting enough sun, can all cause cancer. But this time, it's worth listening.

The journal Addiction has published a paper that makes a simple, yet startling, claim: 

"Evidence can support the judgement that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx [part of the throat], larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and [female] breast"

So what's especially significant about this? 

First, scientists, unlike journalists, are very wary of the word "causes". It's hard to ever prove that one action directly led to another, rather than that both happened to occur within the same scenario. And yet Jennie Connor, author of the paper and professor in the Preventive and Social Medicine department at the University of Otago, New Zealand, has taken the leap.

Second, alcohol not only causes cancer of one kind – the evidence supports the claim that it causes cancer at seven different sites in our bodies. There was weaker evidence that it may also cause skin, prostate and pancreatic cancer, while the link between mouth cancers and alcohol consumption was the strongest. 

What did we know about alcohol and cancer before?

Many, many studies have "linked" cancer to alcohol, or argued that some cases may be "attributable" to alcohol consumption. 

This paper loooks back over a decade's worth of research into alcohol and cancer, and Connor concludes that all this evidence, taken together, proves that alcohol "increases the incidence of [cancer] in the population".

However, as Connor notes in her paper, "alcohol’s causal role is perceived to be more complex than tobacco's", partly because we still don't know exactly how alcohol causes cancer at these sites. Yet she argues that the evidence alone is enough to prove the cause, even if we don't know exactly how the "biologial mechanisms" work. 

Does this mean that drinking = cancer, then?

No. A causal link doesn't mean one thing always leads to the other. Also, cancer in these seven sites was shown to have what's called a "dose-response" relationship, which means the more you drink, the more you increase your chances of cancer.

On the bright side, scientists have also found that if you stop drinking altogether, you can reduce your chances back down again.

Are moderate drinkers off the hook?

Nope. Rather devastatingly, Connor notes that moderate drinkers bear a "considerable" portion of the cancer risk, and that targeting only heavy drinkers with alcohol risk reduction campaigns would have "limited" impact. 

What does this mean for public health? 

This is the tricky bit. In the paper, Connor points out that, given what we know about lung cancer and tobacco, the general advice is simply not to smoke. Now, a strong link proven over years of research may suggest the same about drinking, an activity society views as a bit risky but generally harmless.

Yet in 2012, it's estimated that alcohol-attributable cancers killed half a million people, which made up 5.8 per cent of cancer deaths worldwide. As we better understand the links between the two, it's possible that this proportion may turn out to be a lot higher. 

As she was doing the research, Connor commented:

"We've grown up with thinking cancer is very mysterious, we don't know what causes it and it's frightening, so to think that something as ordinary as drinking is associated with cancer I think is quite difficult."

What do we do now?

Drink less. The one semi-silver lining in the study is that the quantity of alcohol you consume has a real bearing on your risk of developing these cancers. 

On a wider scale, it looks like we need to recalibrate society's perspective on drinking. Drug campaigners have long pointed out that alcohol, while legal, is one of the most toxic and harmful drugs available  an argument that this study will bolster.

In January, England's chief medical officer Sally Davies introduced some of the strictest guidelines on alcohol consumption in the world, and later shocked a parliamentary hearing by saying that drinking could cause breast cancer.

"I would like people to take their choice knowing the issues," she told the hearing, "And do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine and think... do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?"

Now, it's beginning to look like she was ahead of the curve. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.