Why Do Tall People Get Bigger Paychecks?
As if the
vertically-challenged don't have to deal with enough
(what with hemming pant legs, straining to peer over
people at concerts, and struggling to reach the top
shelf at grocery stores), it turns out 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.
"Two adults of the same age and height who were
different heights at age 16 are treated differently on
the labor market," Persico, Postlewaite and Silverman
concluded. "The person who was taller as a teen earns
"Those who were relatively short when young," they
continued, "were less likely to participate in social
activities associated with the accumulation of
productive skills and attributes, and report lower
Weak self-esteem and underdeveloped social skills, can
negatively affect the image one portrays to co-workers
and managers as an adult. A person who lacks confidence
is generally seen as less authoritative, and may have a
harder time convincing employers of his or her
leadership potential. And those, ahem, shortcomings
prove particularly detrimental when hiring managers
A 2004 study by psychologist Timothy A. Judge, Ph.D., of
the University of Florida, and researcher Daniel M.
Cable, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina, found
that every inch of height amounts to a salary increase
of about $789 per year (the study controlled for gender,
weight and age). By this calculation, someone who is 6
feet tall earns $5,525 more annually than someone who is
5 feet, 6 inches. Over the course of a career, of
course, those numbers can really add up.
"Perhaps when humans were in the early stages of
organization, they used height as an index for power in
making 'fight or flight' decisions," Judge told the
"Monitor on Psychology," a publication of the American
Psychological Association. "They ascribed leader-like
qualities to tall people because they thought they would
be better able to protect them. Evolutionary
psychologists would argue that some of those old
patterns still operate in our perceptions today."
A new study published in August 2006 by Princeton
economists Anne Case and Christina Paxson offers a fresh
and decidedly controversial explanation for why taller
people make more money: They're just smarter.
"As early as age 3 -- before schooling has had a chance
to play a role -- and throughout childhood, taller
children perform significantly better on cognitive
tests," Case and Paxson state in the study.
"As adults," they continue, "taller individuals are more
likely to select into higher-paying occupations that
require more advanced verbal and numerical skills and
greater intelligence, for which they earn handsome
In other words, the inflated paychecks of tall people
may have less to do with biases and social stigmas than
previously believed. If taller people do, in fact,
select occupations that require more advanced skills,
employers may be justified in granting them higher
Perhaps most importantly, Case and Paxson highlight the
important role proper early nutrition plays in
determining both height and cognitive ability. A
person's ability to achieve his or her greatest
potential intelligence may boil down to the care he or
she received in the womb and during the first three
years of life.
This means, whether tall or short, a person's health as
a baby could directly correlate to the health of their
paycheck when they enter the workforce.
* Wondering how you stack up? According to the National
Center for Health Statistics, the average height of
American men is 5 feet, 9 inches, and the average height
of American women is 5 feet, 4 inches.