The main reasons women gave for wanting to date taller men were they wanted to feel protected and that they felt more feminine with a taller date.
"As the girl, I like to feel delicate and secure at the same time," said a 5-foot-3 woman who participated in the stud. "Something just feels weird in thinking about looking 'down' into my man's eyes. There is also something to be said about being able to wear shoes with high heels and still being shorter. I also want to be able to hug him with my arms reaching up and around his neck."
Some men said they preferred shorter women, but not so short that it would cause problems with physical intimacy.
"I like it when the body of your partner fits yours," a 5-foot-11 man told the researchers. "It also makes it easier to kiss, hold hands and do other activities with your partner."
Lead author George Yancey of the University of North Texas and study co-author Michael Emerson, co-director of Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research, conducted their study in two parts.
For the first part, the researchers used data from the Yahoo! personal dating advertisements -- 455 men with an average height of 5 feet, 8 inches, and average age of 36; and 470 females with an average height of 5 feet, 4 inches, and average age of 35 -- from throughout the United States.
The study, scheduled to be published in the Journal of Family Issues, found 13.5 percent of the men wanted to date only women shorter than they were, while 49 percent wanted to date only men who are taller.
For the second part of the study, 54 men with an average height of 5 feet, 9 inches, and 131 women with an average height of 5 feet, 4 inches, were recruited from a U.S. university.
The participants answered open-ended questions in an online survey. The study found 37 percent of men wanted to date only women shorter than they were, while 55 percent of female respondents wanted to date only men taller than they were.
Yancey said being tall is a personal asset for men and a personal liability for women. He said the study's finding that height matters more to women supports the social system of patriarchy, in which males are the primary authority figures.
"The masculine ability to offer physical protection is clearly connected to the gender stereotype of men as protectors," Yancey said. "And in a society that encourages men to be dominant and women to be submissive, having the image of tall men hovering over short women reinforces this value."