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Height of Inequality

One day, while sitting in the office canteen with my friend, I asked her to hypothetically assume that she was single. Then would she date me? She was taken aback by the question . “What kind of question is that? I won’t answer it”, she exclaimed. “What is so surprising about it?”, I asked. “Look I am not saying that you date me or any such thing? I am just asking you that am I the kind of boy that girls would like? And what better person to answer that than you? You know me since such a long time. So just answer the question.” Being a girl and my friend she again refused. But I insisted. So she finally gave up and said the thing that I was dreading. “No I wouldn’t go out with you.” “Why not?”, I was devastated, “I want a reason. May be I can work on it.” “OK. You don’t have the height”, she replied. Man!! If she would have said that I don’t have a good physique (which I don’t have), or charm (which again I don’t have) or any other thing, then maybe I could have worked on it. But she said height and I can’t do anything about it. So I thought that I would google the relationship between height and success in life to find out the truth and stumbled upon quite a lot of information. I was surprised to see the amount of research done on this. Let me share some of my findings with you.

Short people have to deal with a lot of problems because of their height (like hemming pant legs, straining to peer over people at concerts, and struggling to reach the top shelf at grocery stores). And now it turns out that taller people are better compensated than their shorter colleagues. To add insult to injury, height has not only been linked to larger paychecks and greater self-confidence, but also to higher intelligence.

For decades, social scientists have studied what is referred to as the "Height Premium" - the increased earnings that, on average, taller people receive. A 2001 study by Nicola Persico, Andrew Postlewaite and Dan Silverman of the University of Pennsylvania, found that it's the height a person had as a teenager that matters when it comes to bringing home the bacon as an adult. A study also found out that every inch of height amounts to a salary increase of about $789 per year. By this calculation, someone who is 6 feet tall earns $5,525 more annually than someone who is 5 feet, 6 inches.

That makes height as important as race or gender as a determinant of wages. And it works for women as well as men. Even among female identical twins (whose heights can differ more than you might expect), the taller sister earns, on average, substantially more than the shorter.

Height matters not just for wages but for getting the leadership roles. Of 43 American presidents, only five have been more than a centimeter below average height, and the last of those was Benjamin Harrison, elected in 1888. (Another three, most recently Jimmy Carter, were just a hair below average.) Most presidents have been several inches above the norm for their times, with the five tallest being Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, Thomas Jefferson, and Franklin Roosevelt - suggesting, incidentally, that height predicts not just electoral success but a inclination to challenge the American Constitution. (This statistical anomaly works in the other direction as well; the shortest of American presidents was James Madison, who largely wrote the American Constitution.)

Height also affects the potential to attract mates. Women like taller men because they see them as better capable of providing protection than shorter ones. They see them as stronger, more fertile men. In this era where women are increasingly getting independent, this innate biological trait still gets expressed. On an average women like men who are at least 4-5 inches taller than them.

So, what's the deal? Why do the tall tower over the short in more than just physical stature? Does height breed respect, so that tall people get showered with riches? Or does height breed self-esteem, so that tall people are more likely to assert themselves? In other words, do tall people succeed because of how others see them, or do tall people succeed because of how they see themselves?

This question is still open to debate as there are many men who despite being short, made it big. To name such few are Warren Buffett, Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, etc. in fact almost all of the world’s greatest batsmen were of short height (who can forget Sir Don Bradman). Bollywood is also dominated by actors who have to wear heels to tower above their female counterparts (Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai).

But still these people are few and if we look at the world around us, we’ll still see the height bias. And to again go back to my story, isn’t this the “height of inequality”!!


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