Workplace Rewards Tall People With Money, Respect, UF Study Shows
October 16, 2003
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Short people may be short-changed when it comes to salary, status and respect, according to a University of Florida study that found tall people earn considerably more money throughout their lives.
“Height matters for career success,” said Timothy Judge, a UF management professor whose research is scheduled to be published in the spring issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology. “These findings are troubling in that, with a few exceptions such as professional basketball, no one could argue that height is an essential ability required for job performance nor a bona fide occupational qualification.”
Judge and Daniel Cable, a business professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill, analyzed the results of four large-scale research studies – three in the United States and one in Great Britain – which followed thousands of participants from childhood to adulthood, examining details of their work and personal lives.
Judge’s study, which controlled for gender, weight and age, found that mere inches cost thousands of dollars. Each inch in height amounted to about $789 more a year in pay, the study found. So someone who is 7 inches taller – say 6 feet versus 5 feet 5 inches – would be expected to earn $5,525 more annually, he said.
“If you take this over the course of a 30-year career and compound it, we’re talking about literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of earnings advantage that a tall person enjoys,” Judge said.
Height was associated with subjective ratings of work performance, such as supervisors’ evaluations of how effective someone is on the job, but also objective measures of performance, including sales volume, he said.
Being tall may have the effect of boosting employees’ self-confidence, helping to make them more successful, as well as prompting people to ascribe more status and respect to a tall person, he said.
Tall sales people who are admired by customers, for example, may be seen as more persuasive leaders and may be able to negotiate more effectively, Judge said. As a result, customers may be more likely to buy from them, he believes.
“If height has the social status we think it does, it stands to reason that tall people would sell more cars because they’re seen as a more authoritative source on the matter,” he said.
The relationship between height and earnings was particularly strong in sales and management positions, Judge said. But the study also showed a correlation for employees in less-social occupations, such as engineering, accounting, computer programming and clerical work, he said.
Each one-inch increase in height resulted in an increase in annual earnings of $897 in the one study, $728 in a second study and $743 in a third, averaging to be about $789 more a year, Judge said. It was not possible to get estimates for one of the studies because of the way salary was categorized.
The research showed that height was even more important than gender in determining income, and its significance does not decline as a person ages. The study found it was as predictive of earnings when employees were in their 40s and had accumulated some work experience as it was when they were in their 20s and were just starting out, he said.
Height’s commanding influence may be a remnant of our evolutionary origins, when humans lived among animals, which use size as an index of power and strength when making “fight or flight” decisions, he said.
“When humans evolved as a species and still lived in the jungles or on the plain, they ascribed leader-like qualities to tall people because they thought they would be better able to protect them,” Judge said. “Although that was thousands of years ago, evolutionary psychologists would argue that some of those old patterns still operate in our perceptions today.”
The average height of Americans today is 69.1 inches – about 5 feet 9 inches – for men and 63.7 inches – nearly 5 feet 4 inches – for women.
It has been more than 100 years since U.S. voters chose a president who was shorter than the average man, Judge said. Elected in 1896, President William McKinley, at 5 feet 7 inches, was ridiculed in the press as a “little boy,” he said.
Even language reveals the social value of height, Judge said. When a person is highly esteemed, he may be described as a big man, and people may say they look up to and admire those who are tall, he said.
Conversely, the term “Napoleon complex” is used to describe how some short people compensate for their feelings of insecurity over lack of stature with aggressive, belligerent or arrogant behavior, he said.
Not only does the emphasis on height raise issues of fairness in our society, which protects a variety of protected classes from discrimination, but it may have unforeseen economic repercussions, Judge said.
“If we have a bias against short people and that bias is not shared by other countries, we have placed ourselves at a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “If we’re giving great weight to an attribute like height that’s irrelevant to performance on the job, then we’re introducing error in our hiring and promotion decisions that causes inefficiencies in our economy.”
Sara Rynes, Murray professor in the department of management and organizations at the University of Iowa, said the research examines some interesting issues. “The bias that Drs. Judge and Cable observe seems very difficult to eradicate,” she said. “Indeed, I recently read that because of the widely perceived advantages of height, an increasing number of parents are seeking growth hormone therapy for their shorter-than-average children.”