Height discrimination

Heightism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals based on height. In principle, it refers to discriminatory treatment against individuals whose height is not within the normal acceptable range of height in a population. Height discrimination is most common against shorter than average men and is generally accepted and ignored.[1][2]

Origin of the term

The term heightism was coined by sociologist Saul Feldman in a paper titled "The presentation of shortness in everyday life—height and heightism in American society: Toward a sociology of stature", presented at the meeting of the American Sociological Association in 1971.[3][4] Heightism was included in the Second Barnhart Dictionary of New English (1971)[5] and popularized by Time magazine in a 1971 article on Feldman's paper.[6]

The word is an example of Time magazine's habit of supplying new words through "unusual use of affixes",[7] although Time itself objected to the term's inclusion in the 1991 Random Webster's College Dictionary, citing it as an example of the dictionary "straining ... to avoid giving offense, except to good usage" and "[lending] authority to scores of questionable usages, many of them tinged with politically correct views."[8]

Heightism is one of a proliferation of neologisms relating to prejudice and discrimination that are lexically patterned after sexism.[9]

Height and social discrimination

Employment wage and social experience discrimination

A research paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed that height is strongly related to success for men. It showed that increase in height for men corresponds to increase in income after controlling for other social psychological variables like age and weight.[1] Economists Nicola Persico, Andrew Postlewaite and Dan Silverman explained the "height premium" and found that "a 1.8-percent increase in wages accompanies every additional inch of height". They also found that men's wages as adults could be linked to their height at age 16. The researchers found that on an average an increase in height by one inch at age 16 increased male adult wages by 2.6 percent. This is equal to increase of approximately $850 in 1996 annual earnings. In other words, the height and corresponding social experiences of taller male adolescent at age 16 would likely translate to higher wage in later adulthood as compared to shorter male adolescent.[2]

As with all correlations, there may be other factors at work. For example, several epidemiological studies have shown a statistically significant positive correlation between height and intelligence in human populations. However, this correlation, though statistically significant, is generally weak and does not imply that variations in stature have a direct effect on cognitive ability. Though significant correlations have been found in early and late childhood in both developed and developing countries, in adults, changes in environment and social status reduce the strength of this correlation.[10]

In business

Some jobs do require or at least favor tall people, including some manual labor jobs, law enforcement, most professional sports, flight attendants, and fashion modeling. US Military pilots have to be 63 to 79 inches (160 to 200 cm) tall with a sitting height of 34 to 40 inches (86 to 102 cm).[11] These exceptions noted, in the great majority of cases a person’s height would not seem to have an effect on how well they are able to perform their job. Nevertheless, studies have shown that short people are paid less than taller people, with disparities similar in magnitude to the race and gender gaps.[12]

Surveys have uncovered that less than 3% of CEOs were below 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) in height. 90% of CEOs are of above average height.[13]

Dating and marriage

Heightism is also a factor in dating preferences. For some people, height is a noteworthy factor in sexual attractiveness.

The greater reproductive success of taller men is attested to by studies indicating that taller men are more likely to be married and to have more children, except in societies with severe sex imbalances caused by war.[14] However, more recent research has drawn this theory into question, finding no correlation between height and offspring count.[15] Moreover, research on leg length and leg-to-body ratio conflicts with the notion that there is a distinct preference for taller mates. A 2008 study found that both extremes, tall and short, reduced attractiveness, and a 2006 study found that a lower leg-to-body ratio in men and higher leg-to-body ratio in women increased aesthetic appeal.[16][17] Biologically, from an evolutionary perspective, these findings are consistent with data relating height to human health. Therefore, a biological or, more specifically, an evolutionary argument for the preference of a taller mate is questionable, lacking definitive evidence. Nonetheless, research by Dan Ariely found that American women exhibit a marked preference for dating taller men, and that for shorter men to be judged attractive by women, they must earn substantially more money than taller men.[18]

Nonetheless, on a cultural level in Post-industrial society, a sociological relationship between height and perceived attractiveness exists. This cultural characteristic, while applicable to the modernized world, is not a transcendental human quality.[19] Quantitative studies of woman-for-men personal advertisements have shown strong preference for tall men, with a large percentage indicating that a man significantly below average height was unacceptable.[20] A study produced by the Universities of Groningen and Valencia, has found that men who felt most anxious about attractive, physically dominant, and socially powerful rivals, were less jealous, the taller they were themselves.[21] The study also found that women were most jealous of others' physical attractiveness, but women of medium height were the least jealous.[22] The report, produced by Dutch and Spanish researchers, stated that because average height women tend to be the most fertile and healthy, they would be less likely to feel threatened by women with those similar features.[23]

In the media

In the media, heightism can take the form of making fun of people whose height is out of the normal range in ways that would be unseemly if directed at skin color or weight. The portrayal of short men in the media is in general negative. In general, short statured men are portrayed as unsuccessful in career, romance, etc. (e.g., Spence Olchin, Bud Bundy, and George Costanza) or they are unlikeable tyrants in need of compensating for "something" (e.g. Lord Farquaad from the first Shrek film or to a lesser degree Edward Elric). Notable exceptions are roles played by Michael J. Fox (especially Mike Flaherty from the TV series Spin City, where a short man is portrayed as an attractive and likable person, who is successful both in romance and career), and Kevin Connolly's portrayal of Eric "E" Murphy in HBO's television series Entourage (Connolly is 5 ft 5 in or 1.65 m)[24]

Similarly, shorter men are often denied leading roles. Although some famous cinema actors such as Alan Ladd 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) have been short in real life, in their fictional depictions they have been presented as taller. There have also been cases of very tall actors encountering problems in Hollywood. Dolph Lundgren and Armie Hammer, both standing about 6 ft 4 12 in (1.94 m), stated that they had lost jobs or were about to do so because of being too tall.[25][26]

When Daniel Craig was announced as James Bond in 2005, intense criticism of the casting decision (made by Eon Productions) included the notion that the actor was too short to play 007, even though at 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) Craig is average height for a white British male. There have also been complaints on Henry Cavill being chosen to play Superman, arguing that he at a stature of 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) was too short for the role.

In the Star Wars saga, Darth Vader is depicted as having longer artificial legs attached, making him massive and taller than his original form; He is portrayed by 6'5" David Prowse. Vader's spoof, Dark Helmet in the movie Spaceballs (1987), is depicted as being very short in stature; he is portrayed by Rick Moranis who is 5'0".

In the Monty Python sketch Archaeology Today, an interviewer (Michael Palin) demeans Professor Lucien Kastner (Terry Jones) for his 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) height, calling him a "five-foot ten-inch weed," and continually praises Sir Robert Eversley (John Cleese) for his 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) stature.

In 1987 the BBC comedy series A Small Problem imagined a totalitarian society in which people under the height of 5 feet (1.5 m) were systematically discriminated against. The program attracted considerable criticism and complaints which accused the writers of reinforcing prejudice and of using offensive terms; the writers responded that their intention had been to show all prejudice was stupid and that height was chosen randomly.[27]

In Jhonen Vasquez's Invader Zim, the Irken hierarchy is based on height, with the tallest being the leader, and the shortest receiving no credit for conquering planets or given the worst assignments, such as Skoodge's case.

The Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode Jones features a serial killer who preys on shorter women. The detectives theorize that these women are targeted because "they made [the killer] feel powerful, [the killer] could dominate them." Eventually Alexandra Eames (played by Kathryn Erbe, 5 ft 2 in or 1.57 m) baits herself for the suspect, who shows an attraction to her.

In an episode of The Simpsons called Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy, Homer criticizes his father for never saying anything nice to him. In response, Grampa says, "I was always proud that you weren't a short man."

S&M Short and Male, a documentary aired in 2008, demonstrated the obstacles and bigotry that short statured men face every day in life, love and work.


Currently, there is one state in the United States of America, Michigan, that prohibits height discrimination.[28] There is pending legislation introduced by Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing which would add Massachusetts to the list.[29] Two municipalities currently prohibit height discrimination: Santa Cruz, California[30] and San Francisco, California.[31] The District of Columbia prohibits discrimination based on personal appearance.[32] Ontario, Canada prohibits height discrimination under the human rights code.[33] Victoria, Australia prohibits discrimination based on physical features under the Equal Opportunity Act of 1995.[34]

Examples of successful legal battles pursued against height discrimination in the workplace include a 2002 case involving highly qualified applicants being turned down for jobs at a bank because they were considered too short;[35] a 2005 Swedish case involving an unfair height requirement for employment implemented by Volvo car company;[36] and a 1999 case involving a Kohler Company informal practice not to consider women who applied for jobs unless they were at least 5 ft 4 in (1.63 m) tall.[37] Height requirements for employment which are not a bona fide occupational requirement are becoming more and more uncommon.

See also


  1. 1 2 Judge, A. T. & Cable D. M. (2004) The Effect of Physical Height on Workplace Success and Income: Preliminary Test of a Theoretical Model, 'Journal of Applied Psychology', vol 89 9, No. 3, 428–441
  2. 1 2 Persico, Nicola; Postlewaite, Andrew; and Silverman, Dan. "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height." Journal of Political Economy, October 2004, Vol. 112, No. 5, pp. 1,019-53.
  3. Feldman, Saul. "The presentation of shortness in everyday life—height and heightism in American society: Toward a sociology of stature Paper". Presented at the meeting of the American Sociological Association. Chicago, Il. 1971.
  4. heightism, n." OED Online. June 2003. Oxford University Press. September 2006.
  5. Shapiro, Fred R. (Spring 1985). "Historical Notes on the Vocabulary of the Women's Movement". American Speech. Duke University Press. 60 (1): 14. JSTOR 454643.
  6. "Heightism.(Behavior)". Time. Time, Inc. 98 (14): 82. 4 October 1971.
  7. Yates, Norris (Spring 1981). "The Vocabulary of Time Magazine Revisited". American Speech. Duke University Press. 56 (1): 55–60. JSTOR 454478.
  8. Birnbaum, Jesse (June 24, 1991). "Defining womyn (and others): Random House's new dictionary is gender neutral, politically correct - and an English-lover's disappointment". Time. Time, Inc. 137 (25): 51.
  9. Shapiro, Fred R. (Spring 1985). "Historical Notes on the Vocabulary of the Women's Movement". American Speech. Duke University Press. 60 (1): 8. JSTOR 454643.
  10. Teasdale T. W.; Srensen T. I. A.; Owen D. R. (1989). "Fall in association of height with intelligence and educational level". British Medical Journal. 298 (6683): 1292–1293. doi:10.1136/bmj.298.6683.1292. PMC 1836522Freely accessible. PMID 2500201.
  11. U.S. Air Force ROTC despite statistical and physical evidence to support the proposition that short people consistently have reduced reaction times.: Admissions requirements
  12. Why Tall People Make More Money
  13. "Short Guys Finish Last" The world's most enduring form of discrimination. The Economist, 23 December 1995.
  14. Miami University of Ohio: “Don’t Want No Short, Short Man: The Study Of Height, Power, and Mate Selection”.
  15. "Physique Correlates with Reproductive Success in an Archival Sample of Delinquent Youth".
  16. "Adaptive Preferences for Leg Length in a Potential Partner".
  17. "The leg-to-body ratio as a human aesthetic criterion".
  18. "Ariely found that a 5'4" man would need to make $229,000 more than a 6' man to have equal appeal; a 5'6" man would need $183,000 more; a 5'10" man would need $32,000 more." Lori Gottlieb (2010). Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. Penguin, ISBN 9781101185209 p. 239
  19. "How universal are human mate choices? Size doesn’t matter when Hadza foragers are choosing a mate".
  20. Short Persons Support: “Personals Analyzer”.
  21. Short men are the jealous type - March 13, 2008”.
  22. Your height dictates how jealousy strikes”.
  23. Short men 'are the most jealous'”.
  24. Kevin Connolly (I) - Biography.
  25. http://www.celebheights.com/s/Dolph-Lundgren-22.html
  26. http://www.celebheights.com/s/Armie-Hammer-47501.html
  27. A Small Problem in BBC Comedy Guide.
  28. Text of the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976.
  29. Text (PDF) of Massachusetts House bill 3752, 2006.
  30. Chapter 9.83 of the City of Santa Cruz code – “Prohibition against Discrimination”, 1992.
  31. Text of Compliance Guidelines To Prohibit Weight and Height Discrimination; San Francisco Administrative Code Chapters 12A, 12B and 12C and San Francisco Municipal/Police Code Article 33, 26 July 2001.
  32. Text District of Columbia Human Rights Act.
  33. Policy on height and weight requirements Ontario, Canada Human Rights Code.
  34. Text Victoria, Australia Equal Opportunity Act of 1995.
  35. Chinese Height Discrimination Case.
  36. Volvo Car Company Height requirement for employment.
  37. Kohler Corp. Gender Discrimination Case.
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