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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Heightism is a form of discrimination based on height. In principle it can refer to unfavorable treatment of either unusually tall or short people.


In business

Some jobs do require or at least favor tall people, including some manual labor jobs, most professional sports, and fashion modeling. U.S. military pilots have to be 64 to 77 inches (160 to 200 cm) tall with a sitting height of 34 to 40 inches (86 to 100 cm).[1] 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.[2][3]

A survey of Fortune 500 CEO height in 2005 revealed that they were on average 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m) tall, which is approximately 2–3 inches (5.1–7.6 cm) taller than the average American man. 30% were 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) tall or more; in comparison only 3.9% of the overall United States population is of this height.[4] Similar surveys have uncovered that less than 3% of CEOs were below 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) or taller than 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) in height. Ninety percent of CEOs are of above average height.[5]

Others believe that height has a significant independent impact on economic success, pointing to specific instances of height-based discrimination.[6] Surveys of attitudes do reveal that people both perceive and treat people of shorter stature as inferior,[7] and that economic differentials exist which may be the result of height discrimination.[8] The relationship between height, cognitive ability, and discrimination based on height remains a subject of debate.


Some epidemiological studies have shown that intelligence can be correlated, albeit very slightly, with height in human populations. However, intelligence is believed to be influenced by many different factors and a wide range of intelligence levels can be observed in individuals at any given height.

In politics

Taller candidates have the advantage in electoral politics, at least in the United States (where statistics are available for study). Other countries may be different, such as Russia, where President Dmitry Medvedev is 5 ft 5.5 in (1.66 m) and former president Vladimir Putin is 5 ft 7.5 in (1.71 m). France's President Nicolas Sarkozy is 5 ft 6.5 in (1.69 m). Of the 43 U.S. Presidents, only five have been more than an inch (2.54 cm) below average height. Quantitative studies of U.S. Senators and Governors have shown that they are on average several inches taller than the U.S. population at large.[9] During the 2004 election, some anti-Bush artwork and political cartoons depicted him as much shorter than he actually stood[citation needed], favoring Kerry, who was taller.

Non-electoral politics are more difficult to study, as outcomes based on height are more difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, a number of powerful dictators have been below average height. Examples include Engelbert Dollfuss (4 ft 11 in or 1.50 m), Deng Xiaoping (5 ft 0 in or 1.52 m), Kim Jong Il (5 ft 3 in or 1.60 m), Nikita Khrushchev (5 ft 3 in or 1.60 m), Francisco Franco (5 ft 4 in or 1.63 m, Joseph Stalin (5 ft 5 in or 1.65 m) and Benito Mussolini (5 ft 6 in or 1.68 m). Contrary to popular impression, Napoleon Bonaparte at 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) and Adolf Hitler at 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) were both within the average height range for their times and places.

In the United Kingdom, the influential Spitting Image satirical television series depicted David Steel as a midget. This was credited with undermining his political career.[10] When the French president Nicolas Sarkozy made a state visit to the UK in March 2008, the British press was uncommonly united in passing comment on the fact that he is a short man and in carrying a closeup photograph showing the sizeable heels on his shoes in contrast to the flat shoes of his taller wife, Carla Bruni.


Heightism is cited as one of the underlying causes of the Rwandan Genocide, in which approximately one million people were killed. It is believed that one of the reasons that political power was conferred to the minority Tutsis by the exiting Belgians was because they were taller and therefore (in the eyes of the Belgians) considered superior and more suited to governance.[11]

Dating and marriage

Heightism is also a factor in dating preferences. For some people, height is the major 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 gender imbalances caused by war.[12][13] 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.[14]

Conversely, studies have shown that women of below average height are more likely to be married and have children than women of above average height. Some reasons which have been suggested for this situation include earlier fertility of shorter women, and that a shorter woman makes her mate feel taller in comparison and therefore more masculine.[15]

It is unclear and debated as to the extent to which such preferences are innate or are the function of a society in which height discrimination impacts on socio-economic status. Certainly, much is always made in newspapers and magazines of celebrity couples with a notable height difference, especially where a man is shorter than his wife (for example, Jamie Cullum, 5 inches (13 cm) shorter at 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m) than Sophie Dahl, though the difference is often exaggerated).

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 mass. 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). 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)[16]

Similarly, shorter men are often denied leading roles. Although some famous cinema actors such as Alan Ladd and Tom Cruise have been short in real life, in their fictional depictions they have been presented as taller.

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 above average height for a white British male.

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.[17]


Currently, there is one state in the United States of America, Michigan, that prohibits height discrimination.[18] There is pending legislation introduced by Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing which would add Massachusetts to the list.[19] Two municipalities currently prohibit height discrimination: Santa Cruz, California[20] and San Francisco, California.[21] The District of Columbia prohibits discrimination based on personal appearance.[22] Ontario, Canada prohibits height discrimination under the human rights code.[23] Victoria, Australia prohibits discrimination based on physical features under the Equal Opportunity Act of 1995.[24]

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;[25] a 2005 Swedish case involving an unfair height requirement for employment implemented by Volvo car company;[26] 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.[27] Height requirements for employment which are not a bona fide occupational requirement are becoming more and more uncommon.

See also


  1. ^ U.S. Air Force ROTC: Admissions requirements
  2. ^ University of Pennsylvania, Arts and Sciences: “The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height”
  3. ^ University of Essex: “Beauty, Stature and the Labour Market: A British Cohort Study” (PDF)
  4. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis: “So Much for That Merit Raise: The Link between Wages and Appearance”
  5. ^ "Short Guys Finish Last" The world's most enduring form of discrimination. The Economist, 23 December 1995.
  6. ^ “Princeton Study Coorelates [sic] Height and Intelligence”.
  7. ^ The Gallup Poll: “Perception or Reality? The Effect of Stature on Life Outcomes”.
  8. ^ Short Persons Support: “Does Appearance Matter in the Labour Market?”.
  9. ^ The Straight Dope: “Does the taller candidate always win the election?”.
  10. ^
  11. ^ The Exile: “Burundi: Heightism rears its ugly head”.
  12. ^ Miami University of Ohio: “Don’t Want No Short, Short Man: The Study Of Height, Power, and Mate Selection”.
  13. ^ “Tall Men Do Get The Girl — Brief Article”.
  14. ^ Short Persons Support: “Personals Analyzer”.
  15. ^ BBC News: “Tall men ‘top husband stakes’”.
  16. ^ Kevin Connolly (I) - Biography.
  17. ^ A Small Problem in BBC Comedy Guide.
  18. ^ Text of the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976.
  19. ^ Text (PDF) of Massachusetts House bill 3752, 2006.
  20. ^ Chapter 9.83 of the City of Santa Cruz code – “Prohibition against Discrimination”, 1992.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Text District of Columbia Human Rights Act.
  23. ^ Text Ontario, Canada Human Rights Code.
  24. ^ Text Victoria, Australia Equal Opportunity Act of 1995.
  25. ^ Chinese Height Discrimination Case.
  26. ^ Volvo Car Company Height requirement for employment.
  27. ^ Kohler Corp. Gender Discrimination Case.

External links

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