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The royal heads up

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Maybe they're trying to get height right this time.

The British royal family has got a marriage on its hands, and this time it involves a man who appears to be respectably taller than his bride.

Prince William's father was, let's admit it, shorter than Princess Diana. (UPI's Glenne Currie's story on June 11, 1981, was bluntly headlined: "Charles is Taller.") But admit it they didn't. Not in on the day their engagement was announced, with Charles propped up on a step behind her:

And not on the postage stamp subsequently produced, in which the unfortunate, pre-Photoshop Princess was apparently asked to kneel uncomfortably before her future ex-husband -- or in countless other photographic mementos to their doomed marriage.

Belinda Luscombe in Time asks what marriage is "good for." Whatever else it is or isn't good for, marriage is a good system for getting men together with women who are shorter than them. In that Time article, Dalton Conley is quoted as saying this has changed by "more than 10%" between 1986 and 1993, which he calls an "incredible shift in marital and gender norms." I haven't seen the data (if you find it, let me know!), but a 10% change doesn't seem "incredible," especially given how strong the norm of taller-husband-shorter-wife is. A 1980 study, for example, found that only 1 out of 720 married couples who walked into a bank included a taller wife (if my math is right, that 1-in-720, compared with a random probability of 2% having a taller wife among the individuals included, means that the taller-wife couple was 1/14th as likely as would be expected by chance) .

This is not insignificant. The median U.S. man is 6" taller than the median U.S. woman, so chance is on side of the taller-man norm. But the rigid adherence to this norm results in a daily, intimate interaction among almost all couples that reinforces the bigger-stronger/smaller-weaker gender dichotomy.

Imagine a society in which men competed for women taller than themselves, while women competed for shorter men -- and those taller-woman couples were celebrated as fortunate or blessed. (I wonder if you can.) Anyways, this royal couple seems to be starting off on the right foot, normatively speaking. Although I can't see their feet.

Cross posted from the Family Inequality blog.