Standing tall pays off, study finds

When it comes to height, every inch counts--in fact, in the workplace, each inch above average may be worth $789 more per year, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 89, No. 3).

The findings suggest that someone who is 6 feet tall earns, on average, nearly $166,000 more during a 30-year career than someone who is 5 feet 5 inches--even when controlling for gender, age and weight.

The height-salary link was found by psychologist Timothy A. Judge, PhD, of the University of Florida, and researcher Daniel M. Cable, PhD, of the University of North Carolina. They analyzed data from four American and British longitudinal studies that followed about 8,500 participants from adolescence to adulthood and recorded personal characteristics, salaries and occupations. Judge and Cable also performed a meta-analysis of 45 previous studies on the relationship between height and workplace success.

Judge offers a possible explanation for the height bias: Tall people may have greater self-esteem and social confidence than shorter people. In turn, others may view tall people as more leader-like and authoritative.

"The process of literally 'looking down on others' may cause one to be more confident," Judge says. "Similarly, having others 'looking up to us' may instill in tall people more self-confidence."

As such, the biggest correlation between height and salary appeared in sales and management positions--careers in which customer perception has a major impact on success. If customers believe a tall salesperson is more commanding, for example, they may be more likely to follow the salesperson's wishes, Judge says.

Accordingly, height was most predictive of earnings in jobs that require social interaction, which include sales, management, service and technical careers. The height effect also mattered--though to a lesser degree--in other jobs such as crafts and blue-collar and clerical positions, researchers found.

The study also found that shorter men are slightly more likely to encounter height bias in the workplace than are shorter women. This phenomenon might have evolutionary origins, Judge posits.

"Perhaps when humans were in the early stages of organization, they used height as an index for power in making 'fight or flight' decisions," he says. "Of course, physical stature and prowess may be less important today, but those evolutionary appraisals may still be with us." And people may be more likely to apply those fight or flight subconscious appraisals to men than women, he adds.

Regardless, the study provides evidence that a height bias in the workplace may influence interactions and salaries just as previous research indicates attractiveness, weight and body image do.

Since men and women tend to differ in height, researchers controlled for gender by using the average height of 5 feet 9 inches for an American man and 5 feet 3 inches for a woman. They also controlled for age because people tend to lose 1 to 3 inches of their height during a lifetime.

The four longitudinal studies Judge and Cable used in their analysis were: the Quality of Employment survey from the U.S. Department of Labor, National Longitudinal Surveys by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Intergenerational Studies by the Institute of Human Development at the University of California Berkeley, and Great Britain's National Child Development Study.