Earlier this year, a study published in the Journal of Sex Research reported that gay men, on average, tend to be shorter than their heterosexual counterparts (click here to read a summary of the findings). This study had an important limitation, though, in that it wasn’t based on nationally representative data. Because all participants were either college students or attendees at an LGBT pride event, some concern was raised about how reliable the findings might be.
A new study that just appeared in the Archives of Sexual Behavior would appear to put this concern to rest. In it, the same group of researchers successfully replicated their height finding in a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults.
This time, they examined data from 14,786 participants who took part in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (also known as Add Health). These data were collected in several waves between 1994 and 2008. At the beginning of the study, participants were 15.5 years old on average.
The data for this analysis came from the fourth wave of data collection, which occurred when participants were 28.4 years old on average. During this wave, participants self-reported their sexual orientation on a survey and had their height measured by a trained interviewer.
The researchers found that, after statistically controlling for race/ethnicity and education level, men who identified as exclusively gay were about 2 cm (approximately 0.8 inches) shorter than exclusively straight men. It’s worth noting that this difference was virtually identical to the difference found in the other study published earlier this year.
Bisexual men fell somewhere in between the gay and straight men, but didn’t differ significantly from either group. In addition, no statistically significant differences were found in height for women based on sexuality. These findings are also consistent with those that were reported in the earlier study.
So why might men’s height depend on their sexual orientation? The researchers tested whether nutrition (i.e., diet) and stress-related variables (e.g., experiences with victimization, lack of social support) could account for the observed height differences between gay and straight men; however, they didn’t find any support for these ideas. As such, the authors speculate that the more likely explanation involves differences in prenatal hormone exposure (learn more about this idea here).
Although these findings were obtained with a nationally representative sample and replicated previous research, they still have their limitations, including the fact that we cannot conclude cause-and-effect from them.
Moreover, it’s important to highlight that, while two studies have found a height difference on average, this is not to say that all heterosexual men are taller than all gay men. As always, there is a lot of individual variability, and a man’s height alone should therefore not be taken as an indicator of his sexuality.
Also, keep in mind that while you may personally know (or be) a tall gay man, this doesn’t necessarily invalidate these findings or the proposed theory behind them. Why? Because researchers believe that sexual orientation is something that is multi-determined and that there are likely multiple pathways to a given sexual orientation. Perhaps some causes are linked to shorter stature while others are not.
As always, more research is needed; however, these results provide further support for the idea that the development of male sexual orientation likely has a biological basis.
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To learn more about this research, see: Skorska, M. N., & Bogaert, A. F. (2016). Pubertal Stress and Nutrition and their Association with Sexual Orientation and Height in the Add Health Data. Archives of Sexual Behavior.
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