Genetic Lottery in Relation to Height (Rolling The Dice)

Surgery | Written by Joshua Leaf | Updated on November 6, 2021

A lottery ball machine with balls that say "you get to be tall", "you get to be short", and "standard height" on them. This symbolizes that height is a genetic lottery and there's dna double helix on the side for decoration.

Some people just seem to have been born lucky and won big on their first role of the dice. They’re good looking, have successful relationships, and enjoy personal and professional fulfillment. Exactly how much of our successes, failures, and even biological traits can be directly linked to genetics?

As it turns out, quite a lot, but it’s not this simple.

Those of us who feel as though they have “won” or “lost” the genetic lottery, specifically when it comes to height, have a lot of data to pore over to confirm or deny these links – and even then, the conclusions made will be subject to objection.

The Latest Genetic Research

We have come a long way from the infancy of genetic research. In 2003, scientists finally mapped the entire human genome. Many breakthroughs in genetic research, specifically research that can explain certain genetic illnesses, has also highlighted those aspects of the human condition – such as complex behaviors – that cannot be predicted by genetics only.

Geneticist Kathryn Harden became famous for her work on Genome Wide Association Studies or GWAS. In the last five or so years, this research has gained ground for mapping height and/or weight, cardiovascular disease, and complex behaviors.

GWAS provides a picture of how genetics can explain an individual’s level of success, mental health, physical health, criminal behaviors, and other complex behaviors. [1]

The Genetic Lottery and Height

It can certainly be disarming to meet someone who is extremely tall or extremely short when their height does not match up with their parents’ height. To what extent does genetics actually affect height? Some of us are born with height that varies so far from their parents’ height or societal norms that it can cause physical problems.  Extremely tall people often struggle with scoliosis, limb length discrepancy, and even social problems, specifically women born very tall – these women are often picked on at school at a young age.

So, what exactly will define someone’s height if parental height cannot be trusted? Turns out, human height is considered 60-80% heritable – therefore parental height is the best indicator of a child’s ultimate height [2]. That other 20-40% is decided by other factors, such as nationality, nutrition, and pure chance. Nations with particularly tall residents tend to come from well-developed first world countries with excellent resources, such as high protein foods – meat, dairy, and fish. Nutrition at a young age can also provide an individual with more growth, and therefore will likely be taller.

Height is Generally Outside of an Individual’s Control

As we’ve learned from the latest genetic research, height is largely determined by genetics and outside factors play a minor role in development. Children can be fed a nutritious diet to help them reach growth milestones. Other factors that could boost a child’s height are sleep quality and exercise habits. However, as an adult, there are very few ways to change an individual’s height. High heeled shoes or inserts in flat shoes can change the perceived height of someone, but their actual height will, of course, remain unchanged.

Those who are unsatisfied by their height as adults might consider psychiatric help, although it may not work for everyone. This is most often a problem with confidence and the perception of oneself. These individuals tend to be of the opinion that they have lost the genetic lottery. It is so important to remember that most factors of mature height are out of our control. We, as humans, tend to compare ourselves to others, and those who are surrounded by people who are much taller may develop insecurities about their height.

It’s important to be cognizant that yes, genetics matter in many social, professional and other situations, but it doesn’t have to be something that controls your destiny. It may be possible to change your outlook through introspection or therapy, but height is something that can be surgically altered if all else fails.

Nature vs. Nurture

Most of us are familiar with the concept of nature vs. nurture. To be put simply, this expression means that who we become as adults has to do with our nature (i.e., our genetics) and nurture. But what does nurture have to do with height, or an individual’s perception of their own height?

Our family has a huge amount of control over our “nurture side.” If someone is raised in a family where vanity is expected, and the rest of the family is largely good looking, tall, confident, and talented, this individual may feel much more pressure to become “one of the family” and exemplify the family’s tendencies. Or, some kids even develop insecurities from their taller younger brothers if they see him being treated differently or respected by his peers. Not to mention the elder, shorter brother may also get bullied from being the underdog.

However, this same person could have been raised in a family where parental figures often told their child that their looks are not as important as other aspects of who they are. This same individual, with the same genetics, would likely grow up with very different perceptions of their looks, including height.

It’s not always ideal to “win” the genetic lottery! Those of us that grew up in families that put more importance on emotional and mental health, body acceptance, and compassion would simply be more likely to ignore their physical attributes as they age.

Perception and Outlook are Largely Within One’s Control

It may sound cheesy and even be untrue for those suffering with psychological disorders, but your perception is something that’s malleable and somewhat controllable.

Perceived control means that a person believes they have control over their internal state, behavior and other things surrounding the individual. Have you ever had something unfortunate happen like spilling food and it absolutely ruined your day?

On the contrary, have you ever been pulled over by the police or ruined a nice shirt just to simply shrug it off? These are rudimentary examples, but they go to show that it’s not always what happens to you, it’s how you perceive it.

The more mindful you are, the more likely you can work on those self-defeating thoughts and behaviors to ultimately guide your internal monologue. Of course, this may not work for everyone and it’s easier said than done. But if you can’t change your physical height for financial reasons or the amount of time it takes, it’s surely worth a shot.

“Losing” Lottery Ticket: Height Dysphoria and Improving Mental Health

Achieving a certain number of inches of height in one’s physical body is more important to some than others. There are plenty of people who are able to live out their lives, while dealing with physical difficulties coming from being extremely tall or extremely short.

These people have not necessarily “lost” the genetic lottery – especially if they’ve been born healthy, in a developed nation, into a healthy and well-adjusted family, or without disabilities. All of these could (and should) be considered as having “won” the genetic lottery, despite their eventual size, or appearance.

Some people are born with a certain genetic code that differs enough from their parents that they will end up much shorter than both of them. This could be due to dwarfism, growth disorders, or they are simply an outlier, hovering at the extreme end of their genetic bell curve. These differences can originate prenatal or postnatal, and can be extreme [3].

Those who are dissatisfied with their height do have options. There are, of course, ways that they could change their perceived height (heeled shoes, inserts, certain clothing will add “perceived” height), and that could certainly be enough for these people to alleviate their insecurities.

Speaking to a therapist could also be valuable for those suffering from a lack of personal confidence as a direct result of dissatisfactory height.

While surgery to increase height does exist, one must consider all of the risks, the cost, and the time lost to recovery before opting for such a solution.


[1] Collins, F., 2021. Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS). [online] Available at:,the%20presence%20of%20a%20disease  [Accessed 30 October 20221]

[2] “Human Height.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Oct. 2021,

[3] Argente, J., Tatton-Brown, K., Lehwalder, D., & Pfäffle, R. (2019, September 6). Genetics of growth disorders-which patients require genetic testing? Frontiers in endocrinology. Retrieved November 4, 2021, from

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