Monday, November 10, 2008

The advantage of being tall

It is well known that tall people have more success on the labor market, see for example T. Paul Schultz. The big question is whether this is due to discimination, say, because tall people are considered more beautiful, or because being tall is a signal of other positive characteristics. Schultz, for example, has highlighted that being tall is a sign of health.

The articles of Anne Case and Christina Paxson in the Journal of Political Economy and the American Economic Review detail how tall people have actually more cognitive abilities. It is not because the air is better higher up, it has to do, they demonstrate, with the fact that children that are taller at age 3, before school had any influence, already show better cognitive skills. Jere Behrman and Mark Rosenzweig also demonstrated that higher birth weights lead to better school attainment. This just reinforces the point that James Heckman has been pushing so hard, that schooling and labor market outcomes are to a large extend determined even before children are going to school.

In economies where nutrition is more important for developmental issues, Carl-Johan Dalgaard and Holger Strulik show with an intriguing biologically micro-founded model that tall people have distinct labor market advantages: They have higher wages and are less unemployed. It is, however, not clear whether this can translate to an economy with little food security issues.

What prompted me to write about this? Reading about tall people being upset at so-called discrimination in some airlines. Indeed, some of the latter are charging a fee for the priviledge of sitting in the front row or on an exit row where the legroom is larger. Tall people view this as a tax against them. In fact, one should tax them, as shown by Tomer Blumkin, Yoram Margalioth and Efraim Sadka, and as such tax does not exist, they should count themselves lucky. And by the way, if tall people need those seats so badly, why would they not pay for them? And if they are more expensive, they are less likely to be taken by short people.


Sumedh said...

Tallness is associated with attractiveness, and is subconsciously a psychological advantage as it suggests dominance. Obviously, this combination leads to higher opinions of tall people along with taller people being more confident. Interesting topic however, on whether tall people should be charged with the extra needs their tallness demands.

Anonymous said...

well as a person who is 6'9'', the only seats i can sit on in a plane are front/exit row. it really annoys me when i hear about little kids and people who are of average height taking up those seats simply for their convenience, when there are always tall people who require them as a necessity, not a luxury.

Anonymous said...

Further to comments above, i'm 6-7 and i would love to pay for an exit row every flight, but unfortunately most airlines preferentially give them to frequent flyers or they sell out so fast they're unavailable on most flights. Posts saying we should count ourselves lucky are a joke, a short person always has options, a tall person often has none.

Additionally, taller people have a higher calorie requirement, suffer more workplace injuries through poor ergonomics, must purchase larger and more expensive cars, must get more expensive custom clothes, etc etc... For some reason no one mentions that extra cost which is effectively already a tax. It costs more to be tall, a lot more. At least short arses can buy in the kids department...

Anonymous said...

Im 6'7" and only 15 so i think its going to be hard for me i just hit my head the other day on the door way

samaras said...

I’ve studied the ramifications of increasing height on health, physical performance, intelligence, ecology and the risks of human survival for almost 40 years. The results, based on 40 papers, book chapters and books, are contrary to popular and scientific opinions.

First, the observation that children are more intelligent because of our better diet goes against extensive nutrition research that shows the Western diet promotes not only taller and heavier people but also chronic disease (World Cancer Research Fund Report, 2007). The famous nutrition expert, Professor Barry Popkin, has also noted that chronic disease is a recent phenomenon, and the World Health Organization has reported that the affluent diet promotes chronic disease.

The belief that shorter people are inherently less intelligent appears to be an artifact. For example, if we look at periods of exceptional intellectual achievements, they were also periods of short height. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks, the Elizabethan period and Renaissance, 16th C Holland, and two dynasties in China were relatively short compared to modern Europeans and North Americans. (Most of these populations averaged between 5’4” and 5’7”.)

In addition, many of the world’s most creative people have been short or not much
over 5’7”. Examples in literature and science include Alexander Pope, John Keats, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Steinmetz, Einstein, Millikan, Michelson, McClintock, Buckminster Fuller, and Madam Curie. Famous artists include Picasso, Juan Miro, Thomas Benton, William Hogarth, Salvador Dali, and Michelangelo. In music, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, and Stravinsky were also short by today’s standards. Many of these high achievers were less than 5’3”.

As far as athletes go, gymnasts, ice skaters, divers, and marathon runners tend to be short. A Finnish study showed that a number athletic categories were shorter compared to the average military recruit. For example, boxers, long-distance runners, cross-country skiers, wrestlers and weightlifters averaged shorter than military recruits. The weightlifters were almost 2 inches shorter.

It’s sad that scientists, NGOs and governments have ignored the dangers of a world of increasingly large people. Not only does promotion of taller height promote obesity and poor health, but it also threatens the future of humanity. The reason is that bigger body size comes with a cost. A world population of bigger people consumes more food, water, energy and raw materials. It also produces more waste, destroys more forests and animals, and promotes rising ocean levels and air pollution.

In conclusion, the higher performance and pay of taller people is based on the social and economic advantages our society bestows on them. In addition, taller people are more often from higher income families to start with. This was shown by research that showed people who spent one or more of their three life phases in working class environments were shorter than those who spent all three phases of their lives in higher classes.