Besides being more likely to be promoted, studies have shown that taller people make higher starting salaries and out-earn short people throughout the duration of their careers. Researchers have repeatedly confirmed the existence of a height wage gap — the link between height and wages. Taller people earn about 1.6 – 2.2% more per inch per year than shorter people. Thus, an average worker earns approximately $789 more per year for every inch of height. For example, a man who is 6’ tall but who is otherwise identical to someone who is 5’5” would make on average $5,525 more per year, even after controlling for other factors such as gender, weight and age.
The reason for the link between height and wages is still debated.
A popular 2004 study concluded that tall people have certain personal characteristics that help their on-the-job performance, such as self-confidence and better cognitive abilities,[i] which leads to higher wages. The researchers claim that workers who were short as teens make less money as adults because their experience of being short has led them to become less easygoing and more risk averse. In contrast, individuals who were taller as teens developed higher self-esteem and better self-image, which led them to participate in more social activities and pursue leadership roles in high school and college.
Other researchers have concluded that the connection between height and workplace success is not affected so much by personality characteristics such as confidence, but instead, or in large part, are influenced by factors unrelated to job performance, such as employer bias.[ii]
The confidence theory is less persuasive than the employer bias theory because of this one simple fact: short people who are self-employed do not experience the same association between height and workplace success and do not suffer any height wage gap — only short people who are subordinate to employers do.[iii] This fact alone confirms that the height wage gap in the workplace is more a result of bias on the part of managers, rather than any incompetence, lack of self-esteem or other shortcoming on the part of the employees. Also, those characteristics which are deemed as “higher self-esteem” and “better self-image” are based on nothing more than subjective perceptions that are associated with the inherent height bias that all people have instinctively (including the scientists conducting the research study). Designing and conducting a scientific study that effectively separates those perceptions based on stereotypes from actual personality characteristics would be difficult if not impossible.
Regardless of the root cause, the impact on wages and workplace success for short workers is alarming. Disparities in pay for short people are similar to race and gender wage gaps.
[i]Persico, N., Postelewaite, A., and Silverman, D. “The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: the Case of Height,” Journal of Political Economy 2004: 112 (1019-53)
[ii]Melamed, T., & Bozionelos, N. Managerial promotion and height. Psychological reports. 1992: 71.
[iii]Cinnirella, F., and Winter, J. Size Matters! Body Height and Labor Market Discrimination: A Cross-European Analysis. Mannheim Research Institute for the Economics of Aging. Presented at Cesifo Area Conference On Employment And Social Protection, May 2009.