It seems like the world is divided between those that fall below the line of normal stature and those above. Taller men seem to be blessed by being on the right side of that line, while shorter men have to deal with many disadvantages of being on the other side. Height discrimination or heightism leads to fewer career opportunities, lower socioeconomic status, unhappiness, feelings of inadequacy, cognitive inferiority, limited mating choices, dating opportunities, and more.
Below, we’ll divulge why this is and point to data showing that short stature truly has downsides.
1. Heightism – Also Known As Height Discrimination
Heightism (height discrimination) is a form of prejudice against individuals based on their stature. Or in other words, treating people poorly if they’re not within the statistically normal range of height in a given population .
While not exclusive to short people, they usually face the most difficulties when taller people are very much favored unless they have extreme height .
The average American man is about 5′ 9 tall, and women are closer to 5’4. In cm, that is around 175cm for men and 162cm for women . This is very close to what the WHO defines as a growth reference standard for a healthy population.
The global average for height is 171 cm for men and 159.5 cm for women – with Europe being the tallest and Asia (especially South and South East) being significantly shorter .
Keep in mind that even infants as young as ten months use height to measure social status and fitness, so it is plausible to argue that heightism has biological roots . This discriminatory behavior is undoubtedly present in the animal world, but research shows without a doubt that people do hold implicit biases against short individuals .
Study shows that in developed countries the line when treatment differs due to height is at 5′ 9″ (175–176 cm) for men, while women rarely if ever suffer from a true form of height discrimination .
Although in rare cases and as opposed to men’s height issues, women have reported bias from being “too tall.”
Unfortunately, heightism in today’s society is not a widely acknowledged form of discrimination, perhaps because it is instinctive. When we meet other people, we engage in “gaze behavior,” which is a primitive way of establishing their position on the social hierarchy scale based on whether we are looking up to or down on that individual while making subconscious height-based comparisons.
If we look down on somebody, we attribute less social power and even negative personality traits. However, we attribute positive characteristics to those we look up to and assess them higher on the social hierarchy scale .
Heightism is a widespread form of discrimination across many domains of today’s society. Even from a young age, kids get bullied, and heightism continues on to sports, dating, employment, politics, media, etc.
2. Short People Have Less Career and Job Opportunities
One of the areas where height discrimination can substantially impair the quality of living is career and success. Research shows the clear existence of a so-called “height premium” in the workplace, with tall individuals receiving more benefits relative to short people. At the same time, recruiters perceive tall job candidates as more competent, employable, and healthy. .
Researchers show that height is preferred for success among occupations that rely on appearance and stature, such as sales and management. Height is a good predictor of earnings in blue-collar jobs in comparison with professional-technical jobs such as engineering .
An interesting anomaly is the film industry, where some of the highest-paid actors like Tom Cruise, Zac Efron, Robert Downey Jr, Mark Wahlberg, Al Pacino, to name, are all relatively short. Many celebrity figures from the music and entertainment business are also significantly below the statistical standard, like Kevin Hart, Bruno Mars, Lil Wayne, Jon Stewart, Simon Cowell, and so on .
As mentioned, in the animal world, height demands respect and is used as an index of power and strength, influencing fight-or-flight decisions. Therefore, theorists ascribe the importance of height to evolutionary origins. The models used to explain the relationship between physical height and career success propose that height leads to greater social esteem, or how one is evaluated or regarded by others in society.
There is an interesting perceptual bias whereby people expect a positive relationship between an individual’s size and their value or status, meaning the prestige of a person’s occupation affects judgments about their height. For example, presidential candidates who win are perceived as being taller than their opponents who lose .
How others perceive us is one factor, but people tend to internalize the image society projects on them, taking the attributes it ascribes on them, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Taller people tend to have higher self-esteem along with greater feelings of self-worth and self-confidence. While shorter people are more likely to struggle with feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and depression.
These conceptions of oneself lead either to enhanced or diminished job performance . The result of this interplay of factors enables taller workers to receive a substantial so-called “height premium” in earnings or wages, which some studies attribute to non-cognitive abilities and social skills correlated with stature greatly rewarded by the labor market .
3. Short People Generally Have Lower Socioeconomic Status
For every extra inch of height, there is an average of $1,000 of the speculated “height premium.” For example, a 6′ man will make $5000 more than his 5′ 7″ colleague . Every inch is an advantage, but some inches seem to be worth more than others.
The most significant jump in earnings for males is between 5’4″ and 5’6″, and it begins to plateau around 6’0″. In most Western countries, a four to five-inch jump is equal to an increase in salary somewhere between 9 and 15 percent .
It’s also been shown that this phenomenon is present regardless of gender: a one-inch increase in height corresponds on average with a 1.4 percent to 2.9 percent increase in weekly earnings and a 1.0 percent to 2.3 percent increase in average hourly earnings. There is a positive association of height with work hours, translating into a larger height coefficient for weekly earnings than that for average hourly earnings. This correlation between height and earnings is economically significant.
More importantly, this association is not a consequence of lower earnings reported by unusually short people, thus causing a statistical error. Still, it is observed throughout the range of heights, increasing the results’ reliability .
The explanation of why taller stature leads to higher socioeconomic status is attributed to many factors. The possible interpretations include complex interactions between self-esteem, stigma, positive discrimination, and increased intelligence. Evidence shows that self-esteem, leadership perception, and height discrimination tend to be greater in men than in women .
4. Taller People Are Generally Happier
Taller people live better lives in general; at least, that is what data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index daily poll on the US population reveals.
Compared to shorter people, tall individuals evaluate their lives more favorably and report a range of positive emotions, including enjoyment and happiness. On the other hand, shorter people report a range of negative experiences, like sadness and even physical pain. They are also more prone to experience stress and anger.
The findings can be explained by the positive association between height and income and education almost entirely, which are positively linked to better lives and cannot be attributed to taller people’s different demographic or ethnic characteristics .
The most stable and powerful predictor of life evaluation (an individual’s thoughts and perceptions of one’s life) is income. .
Taller people report being happier regardless of location or age. For example, a study done in Indonesia observed both tall men and women who reported being substantially happier than their short counterparts. The magnitude of this correlation showed to be highly significant .
An international study done in Europe analyzed the link between body height and well-being among people aged 50 years and older, confirming the positive effects of height on well-being later in life. The findings were most apparent for individuals with average or a little below average height. Interestingly, there is not necessarily a benefit for being extraordinarily tall, mostly due to increased health risks, confirming that extremes do not lead to happiness .
BBC News conducted a survey on 454,000 individuals where they asked questions regarding their height and perceptions of their own lives. The results showed that people of taller than the average height report better well being and more positive emotions than those below average stature .
5. Short People are Perceived as Inferior to Tall People
The term “big man” is often used to symbolize someone of large physical stature, high social status, or both. This is true throughout history and in almost every culture. Evolutionarily speaking, “big men” experienced higher social status and increased access to resources due to their physical superiority in competition with other individuals of the same and even across species.
This is mostly applicable to men, but it applies to women as well, especially in societies with greater gender equality. If we take contemporary human populations in consideration, there is a positive correlation of height to proxies of social status like leadership, professional achievement, education, and income in both men and women .
In the animal kingdom, size, especially in males, leads to social dominance. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests this correspondence extends in humans, with height being positively related to dominance, status, and authority .
Darwin noticed that males were larger than females in most mammals and claimed that larger size was advantageous in contests over mates. Later studies have confirmed his observations that size is indeed important in intra-sexual competition. This is true not just for mammals; larger males are more likely to win fights with smaller males, securing their path to higher social rank and increased social dominance, which consequently increases access to the opposite gender .
Studies have shown that masculinity mediates the influences of height and age on perceptions of dominance . This perception is hardwired from a very young age. Twenty-eight young children (before primary school) were asked to judge the strength, dominance, and smartness of males and females of different heights. Where they rated taller participants as more dominant and stronger regardless of gender.
6. Taller Stature Correlates with Intelligence
On the first look, height and intelligence might seem unrelated, but research confirms that they are empirically related. This is a cross-sectional correlation present in children, adults at their physical and intellectual peak, and in late adulthood. The interpretations of this connection are on the line of the common nature versus nurture discussion, from suggestions that it is largely genetic to influential environmental factors beginning in childhood, promoting both height and intelligence. Regardless of the causing factor, height and intelligence seem to develop in parallel and even decline in parallel in late adulthood .
The literature presents a significant positive correlation between height and intelligence, as measured by IQ tests. Past research has unveiled that prenatal quality and nutritional status markers during childhood are associated with height and cognition in adulthood, suggesting that early environmental factors may be responsible for the correlation between height and intelligence. Other research shows that heritability estimates in adults for measures of intelligence (e.g., 75%) and height (e.g. 87–93%) are high, suggesting genetic mediation .
Further confirmation of the positive correlation between height and intelligence is observed in children, where it has been associated with the volume of gray matter in their brains . Although genetic factors play a significant role, some authors suggest that fetal and post-natal growth influence childhood cognition, with uncertainty if such effect continues throughout childhood. Development after birth may hold more importance in childhood cognition than fetal growth .
Ultimately, greater height and higher intelligence test scores are predictors of better health markers. Researchers claim that both traits are partly heritable: behavior genetic studies, mostly using twin samples, estimate the heritability of 70–90 % for height and 40–70 % for intelligence .
7. Limited Clothing and Height Increasing Shoe Options
There are many barriers that short men face in mainstream clothing stores. Men 5′ 8″ and shorter may run into several roadblocks while trying on clothes at a typical retail store.
For those who are stocky and short, the hurdles multiply. They do not have the same treatment from mainstream retailers with “big and tall” options since there are no “big and short” alternatives. Even if you manage to find some clothes, they are rarely made for shorter men in a wide range of sizes. Mass retailers justify this tendency as a cost-saving measure. Economically, it is safer for them to produce average sizes .
Peter Manning, who started an eponymous (named after himself) clothing line for short men, gives useful advice on dressing properly while considering size. He suggests avoiding loose-fitting clothes and oversized details. He also advises people of shorter stature to wear low contrast outfits, choose small-scale patterns and wear proportionate accessories.
Buying clothes from stores where they were actually made for your build can significantly improve fit and fashion.
8. Generally, Women Prefer Tall Men
When observing evolution, it is easy to propose that women preferred tall men because they seem stronger and more able to defend physical threats to their families .
Taller men are viewed as more handsome and domineering than their shorter rivals, making male height associated with high mate value, consequently providing more reproductive success. Not only that, but short men are at higher risk of being on the receiving end of infidelity and failed relationships .
Male height is considered as a clear indication of mate quality and health, with only high-quality men and families able to allocate the resources required to develop their stature. Additionally, it can indicate greater genetic quality, such as fluctuating asymmetry and self-reported physical health.
It can also be a measure of a man’s status relative to other men. Higher levels of testosterone have been associated with men’s height and other observable features associated with dominance, like a prominent jaw and brow ridge. Besides the observables, it can be a signal of desirable nonphysical qualities. As mentioned before, male height is associated with higher socioeconomic status and access to resources, contributing to their attractiveness .
The physical and nonphysical qualities associated with male stature combine to provide tall men with several reproductive advantages. Tall men receive more responses from women, and women report dating tall men more frequently than short men. They are also able to obtain partners that are more attractive and are less likely to be childless. What’s more, they usually have more children than their shorter rivals, especially in environments of scarce resources. Research has demonstrated that men that do not have any children are on average 3 cm (1.2 inches) shorter than those who have at least one child .
Taller men are more likely to obtain a second or subsequent wife or multiple wives in societies that allow polygamy, and as research shows, a greater height difference in a couple positively relates to the wife’s happiness . At the other side of the spectrum, shorter men are at great risk of desertion or paternity by another male by the females they associate with, due to their perception of taller men as of higher genetic quality, but aiming to retain the resources of their primary (lower genetic quality) partner.
This height preference has limits since most women prefer their partners not to be too tall relative to her, meaning the height difference largely depends on an individual’s height.
We hope this article provides insight and allows others to empathize with those who have shorter stature. Although being short does come with downsides, it doesn’t have to be debilitating and we encourage anyone facing difficulties surrounding their height to speak to a healthcare professional.
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