The Height Gap

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We've blogged about the relationship between height and pay before, as well as height and electability, but I've just come across a four-year-old New Yorker article on height and how it's changing around the world. In The Height Gap, reporter Burkhard Bilger explains anthropometric history -- the study of the history of human height, and what factors contribute to it. From Bilger's article:

Tall men, a series of studies has shown, benefit from a significant bias. They get married sooner, get promoted quicker, and earn higher wages. According to one recent study, the average six-foot worker earns a hundred and sixty-six thousand dollars more, over a thirty-year period, than his five-foot-five-inch counterpart—about eight hundred dollars more per inch per year. Short men are unlucky in politics (only five of forty-three Presidents have been shorter than average) and unluckier in love. A survey of some six thousand adolescents in the nineteen-sixties showed that the tallest boys were the first to get dates. The only ones more successful were those who got to choose their own clothes.

Like many biases, this one has a certain basis in fact. Over the past thirty years, a new breed of "anthropometric historians" has tracked how populations around the world have changed in stature. Height, they've concluded, is a kind of biological shorthand: a composite code for all the factors that make up a society's well-being. Height variations within a population are largely genetic, but height variations between populations are mostly environmental, anthropometric history suggests. If Joe is taller than Jack, it's probably because his parents are taller. But if the average Norwegian is taller than the average Nigerian it's because Norwegians live healthier lives. That's why the United Nations now uses height to monitor nutrition in developing countries. In our height lies the tale of our birth and upbringing, of our social class, daily diet, and health-care coverage. In our height lies our history.

Read the rest for interesting trivia on differences in height across the world and through human history. See also: more on anthropometric history from Wikipedia.

(Via Kottke.org.)

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June 5, 2008 - 7:57am
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