Height and Pay

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At 6’1”, I may be the shortest male in my family, but I am taller than most men in America.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average height for American men is 5’9”, while the average for American women is 5’3”. Only five percent of all men are 6’2” or above, and the corresponding cutoff for women is 5’8”.

While height is meaningful when filling out a basketball roster or walking under doorways, researchers have also shown it influences workplace outcomes.

Tim Judge, of Notre Dame University, and his colleagues have conducted a number of studies in this area.

Judge and his team suggest that physical height is linked with social esteem and self-esteem. That is, people have higher regard for taller people, and taller people are also likely to have greater confidence and perceptions of their own self-worth. Both of these factors are likely associated with workplace outcomes, including ascension into leadership positions.

Judge and colleagues examined these possibilities in several ways. They first aggregated the findings from past studies, correcting for different sources of error. As expected, they found that physical height was associated with social esteem, holding a leadership role, and overall performance ratings.

They then analyzed longitudinal data from over 4,000 people, controlling for factors that might influence the results, like weight, age, or gender. The researchers found that, over time, taller people earn appreciably more than their peers. Someone who is 6’ tall earns about $5500 more a year than someone who is 5’5”. Over a 30-year career, that comes to a $165,750 in difference.

These results show that height matters, likely because of our perceptual biases, as most people associate height with power, esteem, and leadership.