By Sean Gregory, Wednesday, Jul. 29, 2009
Damn you, tall people. They block your view at the movie theater. They're a pain to shop for: Who really wants to drag themselves to the Big & Tall to buy Uncle Lurch a pair of extra-long pants? They're the ones with better chances of becoming pro basketball players, or supermodels.
Squirts probably don't need any more reasons to envy their longer-limbed neighbors. Unfortunately, a new study just added to the indignity of short people. According to a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, both men and women who are above average height — 5 ft. 10 in. for males, 5 ft. 4 in. for females — report higher levels of happiness than smaller people.
In the study, men who call their lives the "worst possible" are nearly an inch shorter than the average man. The women most down in the dumps are half an inch smaller, on average, than the average woman. Taller people say they are more content, and are less likely to report a range of negative emotions like sadness and physical pain. "Happiness is just one more thing that taller people have going for them," says Angus Deaton, a Princeton economist and co-author of the study, who stands a smug 6 ft. 4 in. (Full disclosure: I, too, am about 6 ft. 4 in., but I will refrain from mocking shrimps in this story.)
Why are tall people happier? According to Deaton's analysis, the result is linked to education and income. The study found that taller people tend to have more education, and thus higher income levels, than shorter people. It follows that the smarter, richer tall people would be sunnier than their vertically challenged compatriots. "Money buys enjoyment and higher life evaluation," says Deaton. "It buys off stress, anger, worry and pain. Income is the thing!"
To gain some real-world insight into these stats, I called the first smart short person I could think of, a friend named Milton Lee. Despite what these studies indicate, smart short people do exist. Milt, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, made a killing as a Wall Street trader in the 1990s, but quit finance to chase his dream of becoming a basketball coach. He has trained many NBA players, including this year's top draft pick, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, and even landed an assistant coaching gig for the Los Angeles Clippers' summer-league team.
Despite giving up an healthy Wall Street income, Lee, who claims he's 5 ft. 9 in. but admits to being 5 ft. 8 in. when pressed, considers himself content. "I'm not totally buying it," he says of the study. "I'm below average height, and have above-average happiness." In his basketball work, Lee spends a lot of time around well-compensated human trees, and doesn't always see smiling faces. "There are plenty of NBA players who are absolutely miserable," Lee says. "They want more playing time, they feel underappreciated. Only a dozen or so guys feel that they are truly loved."
In his Wall Street days, Lee saw plenty of rich, happy short people and wealthy, depressed tall people. He does offer one reason why taller men might be happier. "Whenever I'm out with tall guys, they tend to get more attention from women," says Lee. "You never hear girls say, 'Hey, I'm really into short guys.'"
Lee directed me to one of the players he coaches, Coleman Collins, for the smart, tall guy's perspective. When I told him Lee questioned the findings, Collins, who is 6 ft. 9 in., wasn't surprised. "Short people are always ready to disagree," says Collins, who graduated from Virginia Tech when he was 19, after just three years, and played for the school's basketball team. He points out that he has many short friends. "Generally speaking, I've found that they are more likely to have a chip on their shoulder, more likely to have something to prove," Collins says.
Collins, now 23, supports the study's results. "I'm generally in a good mood," he says. "And based on the anecdotal evidence I've seen, tall people have a more pleasant disposition and are more easygoing. They don't have to make an extra effort to command attention. When they walk into a room, it tends to come naturally to them." Such recognition surely helps your self-esteem. If only it wasn't too late for you short people to have a growth spurt.