Taller People Earn More Money

Public opinion surveys show that rich and poor share similar viewpoints on how the government should spend its money. (Image credit: stock.xchng)

There's a growing body of research that finds taller people make more money.

The latest study, in Australia, found that being 6-foot tall brings 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.

"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.

Other studies in the United States and Britain put the extra earnings at nearly that much per inch.

"The truth is, tall people do make more money. They make $789 more per inch per year," says Arianne Cohen, author of "The Tall Book" (Bloomsbury USA, June, 2009).

There's nothing else physically measurable about tall people that explains the salary boost, however, Cohen explained recently on American Public Media's radio program Marketplace. "They're not nicer. They're not prettier. They're not anything else. But they've sort of gotten a halo in society at this point."

Serious money over time

As the inches mount, the salary continues to, too.

Cohen's number is based in part on a 2003 review of four large U.S. and UK studies led by Timothy Judge, a management professor at the University of Florida. Judge and his colleague concluded that someone who is 7 inches taller — for example, 6 feet versus 5 feet 5 inches — would be expected to earn $5,525 more per year.

Height was found to be more important than gender in determining income (though that claim is debatable, depending on how you analyze the gender salary gap) and its significance doesn't decline with age.

"If you take this over the course of a 30-year career and compound it, we're talking about literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of earnings advantage that a tall person enjoys," Judge said then.

Being tall may boost self-confidence, helping to make a person more successful and also prompting people to ascribe more status and respect to the tall person, Judge said.

Of course all such studies generate averages. A shorter person can certainly beat the odds, and not every tall person is raking it in.

Cohen, who is 6 foot 3 inches tall, says the pay advantage is conferred partly because taller people tend to exude leadership.

"Tall people tend to act like a leader from a very young age because other children relate to them like a slightly older peer," she said on the radio program. "In the workplace, when you're automatically acting as a leader, that's really important when it comes time for promotion."

To some extent, then, the advantage of height may date back to youth.

A 2003 study of 2,000 U.S. men found that their height at age 16 had a big effect on their salary as an adult, regardless of how tall they ended up being. "We found that two adults of the same age and height, who were different heights at age 16, were treated differently in the labor market. The taller teen earned more," said study team member Nicola Persico of the University of Pennsylvania.

Vertically challenged

All is not rosy on high, however.

In her book, Cohen notes that being tall can cost more, from additional food requirements to costlier clothes and the desire for outsized things like high-ceilinged homes. (Interestingly, there's a growing debate about whether obese people should pay for their excess footprint on society and the environment, yet nobody is calling for taxing the tall.)

The average height for American men is about 5 feet 9 inches nearly 5 feet 4 inches for women. In more than a century, no U.S. president has been below average height (the last one was William McKinley, at 5 feet 7 inches, and he was ridiculed in the press as a "little boy," Judge said).

Judge figures the advantages of height today are rooted in our evolutionary decision-making regarding who was most powerful.

"When humans evolved as a species and still lived in the jungles or on the plain, they ascribed leader-like qualities to tall people because they thought they would be better able to protect them," Judge said. "Although that was thousands of years ago, evolutionary psychologists would argue that some of those old patterns still operate in our perceptions today."

In The Water Cooler, Imaginova's Editorial Director Robert Roy Britt looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond. Find more in the archives and on Twitter.

Robert Roy Britt

Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as Space.com and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium, covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.