Human male height is associated with mate choice and intra-sexual competition, and therefore potentially with reproductive success. A literature review (n = 18) on the relationship between male height and reproductive success revealed a variety of relationships ranging from negative to curvilinear to positive. Some of the variation in results may stem from methodological issues, such as low power, including men in the sample who have not yet ended their reproductive career, or not controlling for important potential confounders (e.g. education and income). We investigated the associations between height, education, income and the number of surviving children in a large longitudinal sample of men (n = 3,578; Wisconsin Longitudinal Study), who likely had ended their reproductive careers (e.g. > 64 years). There was a curvilinear association between height and number of children, with men of average height attaining the highest reproductive success. This curvilinear relationship remained after controlling for education and income, which were associated with both reproductive success and height. Average height men also married at a younger age than shorter and taller men, and the effect of height diminished after controlling for this association. Thus, average height men partly achieved higher reproductive success by marrying at a younger age. On the basis of our literature review and our data, we conclude that men of average height most likely have higher reproductive success than either short or tall men. ELECTRONIC SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL: The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00265-011-1283-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.