Monday, July 13, 2009

The Importance of Being Tall

Here's another of life's fun facts that you can't do anything about: Tall people make more money.

The latest study, in Australia, found that being 6-feet tall raises annual income nearly $1,000 compared to men two inches shorter.


"Taller people are perceived to be more intelligent and powerful," according to the study, published recently in the Economic Record.

If that is so, then chalk it up to another of implicit associations we make in life. Associations are basically mental shortcuts, (or prejudices, if you like)that help us hack through life's jungle of information. For instance, if we are told a wine is from North Dakota (instead of California) we turn up our noses. If a pain pill is red or black (colors we associate with power) we rate it as being more effective than one colored white.

And now we learn that if someone is tall, we apparently associate their height with brains and brawn.

"Our estimates suggest that if the average man of about 178 centimeters [5 feet 10 inches] gains an additional five centimeters [2 inches] in height, he would be able to earn an extra $950 per year - which is approximately equal to the wage gain from one extra year of labor market experience," said study co-author Andrew Leigh, an economist at the Australian National University.

Associations, of course, can lead us into all sorts of erroneous judgments. A white pain, for instance, pill can be just as effective as a black one. And a tall man can be as dumb as a short one. (Though I must admit, I've never had a good wine from North Dakota.)

But before the tallest among you (at least the tallest Americans among you) start counting your blessings, consider this: For more than two centuries, until World War II, Americans had been the tallest people in the world. But in the 1950s, Americans' heights stabilized. In most of Europe, though, heights have rapidly increased.

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