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Do tall people deserve to earn more?
The study looked at the long acknowledged “height premium” in employment: it is estimated that a 6ft tall person – invariably a man – is likely to earn £100,000 more in a 30-year career than someone who is 5ft 4in, and that every extra inch in height converts to hundreds of pounds per annum. Researchers found that this bias can be explained not by an unconscious and thoroughly unjust favouring of tall people but because they are in fact more intelligent and have greater social skills.
Tall people, the research claims, are more likely to have been better nourished as children and to have grown up in a healthy environment, giving them the best possible chance of fulfilling their cognitive and social potential as adults.
So, that’s it then – size matters. Get over it, short arses: taller people are better people. But what about shorter people having fewer health issues, living longer and getting to sit on taller people’s shoulders at festivals? What about the rarely acknowledged dimension of social inequality: that only parents who can afford to raise their children to reach their optimum health (and height) are in a position to produce society’s towering intelligentsia? What about Bill Gates (5ft 10in)? Nicola Sturgeon (5ft 4in)? Most of Hollywood’s A-list? The millions of Britons who fall under the 5ft 3in average for women and 5ft 9in for men? What about me (5ft 3in)?
“It’s obvious that you can have great success whatever your height, it’s just that greater height confers a bit of an advantage,” says Daniel Freeman, professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University. “If you look across large samples of people, you will find an association of height with many different markers of success. It’s important to say that it’s only a small association.”
This isn’t the first study to equate height with intelligence. In 2006, Princeton economists found that from “as early as age three and throughout childhood taller children perform significantly better on cognitive tests”. Last year a study by Edinburgh University found there to be a “significant genetic correlation” between height and IQ: taller people tended to be smarter. Only 30% of this link could be explained by environmental influences, the research noted. The rest is down to genetics.
There is also evidence that taller stature gives people greater self-esteem. “We tend to prefer our politicians and leaders to be taller,” Freeman concludes. “Height is generally seen as desirable.” The rest of us can comfort ourselves with the universal truth that no matter how much a tall person earns or how desirable they may be, they will always run out of legroom on an aeroplane and be the one holding up a shared umbrella. A small consolation, perhaps, but no less powerful for it.