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 In a working paper (it has not yet been peer reviewed), Dalton Conley, a sociologist at NYU, and Abigail Weitzman, a phD candidate, used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics – a University of Michigan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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Move objects with your mind – telekinesis is coming to a human brain near you

If a user puts on the Neurable headset, they can move virtual objects with their thoughts. 

On 30 July, a blog post on Medium by Michael Thompson, the vice-president of Boston-based start-up Neurable, said his company had perfected a kind of technology which would be “redrawing the boundaries of human experience”. 

Neurable had just fulfilled the pipe dreams of science fiction enthusiasts and video game fanboys, according to Thompson – it had created a telekinetic EEG strap. In plain English, if a user puts on the Neurable headset, and plays a specially-designed virtual reality video game, they can move virtual objects with their thoughts. 

Madrid-based gaming company eStudioFuture collaborated with Neurable to create the game, Awakening. In it, the user breaks out of a government lab, battles robots and interacts with objects around them, all hands-free with Neurable's headset. Awakening debuted at SIGGRAPH, a computer graphics conference in Boston, where it was well received by consumers and investors alike.

The strap (or peripheral, as it’s referred to) works by modifying the industry standard headset of oversized goggles. Neurable's addition has a comb-like structure that reaches past your hair to make contact with the scalp, then detects brain activity via electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors. These detect specific kinds of neural signals. Thanks to a combination of machine-learning software and eye-tracking technology, all the user of the headset has to do is think the word “grab”, and that object will move – for example, throwing a box at the robot trying to stop you from breaking out of a government lab. 

The current conversation around virtual reality, and technologies like it, lurches between optimism and cynicism. Critics have highlighted the narrow range of uses that the current technology is aimed at (think fun facial filters on Snapchat). But after the debut of virtual reality headsets Oculus Rift and HTC Vive at 2016’s Game Developers conference, entrepreneurs are increasingly taking notice of virtual reality's potential to make everyday life more convenient.

Tech giants such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google have all been in on the game since as far back as 2014, when Facebook bought Oculus (of Oculus Rift). Then, in 2016, Nintendo and Niantic (an off-shoot from Google) launched Pokémon Go. One of Microsoft’s leading technical fellows, Alex Kipman, told Polygon that distinctions between virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality were arbitrary: "At the end of the day, it’s all on a continuum." 

Oculus’s Jason Rubin has emphasised the potential that VR has to make human life that much more interesting or efficient. Say that you're undergoing a home renovation – potentially, with VR technology, you could pop on your headset and see a hologram of your living room. You could move your virtual furniture around with minimal effort, and then do exactly the same in reality – in half the time and effort. IKEA already offers a similar service in store – imagine being able to do it yourself.

Any kind of experience that is in part virtual reality – from video games to online tours of holiday destinations to interactive displays at museums – will become much more immersive.

Microsoft’s Hololens is already being trialled at University College London Hospital, where students can study detailed holograms of organs, and patients can get an in-depth look at their insides projected in front of them (Hololens won’t be commercially available for a while.) Neurable's ambitions go beyond video games – its headset was designed by neuroscientists who had spent years working in neurotechnology. It offers the potential for important scientific and technological breakthroughs in areas such as prosthetic limbs. 

Whether it was a childhood obsession with Star Wars or out of sheer laziness, as a society, we remain fascinated by the thought of being able to move objects with our minds. But in actual realityVR and similar technologies bring with them a set of prickly questions.

Will students at well-funded schools be able to get a more in-depth look at topography in a geography lesson through VR headsets than their counterparts elsewhere? Would companies be able to maintain a grip on what people do in virtual reality, or would people eventually start to make their own (there are already plenty of DIY tutorials on the internet)? Will governments be able to regulate and monitor the use of insidious technology like augmented reality or mixed reality, and make sure that it doesn't become potentially harmful to minors or infringe on privacy rights? 

Worldwide spending on items such as virtual reality headsets and games is forecast to double every year until 2021, according to recent figures. Industry experts and innovators tend to agree that it remains extremely unlikely you’ll walk into someone examining a hologram on the street. All the same, VR technology like Neurable’s is slowly creeping into the fabric of our lived environment.