Is there such a thing as height discrimination (also referred to as heightism)? Most people have never heard of it. But ask yourself two questions:
1. Would you like to be taller? Regardless of height, just about everyone wants to be taller. If science could figure out a cheap, easy and painless way to add a few inches to our height, without any negative side-effects, most people would gladly do it. But, when they start to think about the reason for their answer, they usually can’t identify a specific one. They just decide that being taller is better than being shorter.
2. How much money would you be willing to accept to be in the bottom 1 or 2% of the height distribution for the rest of your life (in the United States, that would be under 5’5″ if you are a man and under 5’0″ if you are woman)? This is a twist on Ohio State University Professor Philip Mazzocco’s 2007 study in which he asked white people how much money would it take for them to be black for the rest of their lives. Most people think that being a little bit short is no big deal, but they would never want to be extremely short, because they instinctively know that they would be giving up a significant advantage.
Height discrimination is based on our instinct to categorize everything by their differences: we automatically sort everything by weight, height, color, and shape. This ability is natural and usually benefits us. It only becomes negative because we assign preferences to these differences – some categories are considered superior, while others are judged to be inferior. And this is the root cause of height discrimination.
Being aware of size is one thing, but we perceive larger things to be more valuable than smaller things. We also associate height with power. We judge the taller person as stronger and more authoritative. As a result, tall people tend to emerge as leaders and end up attaining higher social status. In our society, taller people (both men and women) are held in higher esteem than shorter people. Tallness is glorified while shortness is often ridiculed. We have come to accept a general disrespect toward short individuals as normal, and this sometimes leads to serious height discrimination against short people.