Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Take me to your (tall and probably attractive) leader!

The pygmy posting is worrying me now (see: What’s in a (politically correct) name?) because I’ve been reminded about some research on tallness. I first came across this a few years ago and mentioned it in a leadership workshop in Sweden – along the lines of biological impact on leadership eg good looks, tallness, first born etc. The Swedes were a bit sceptical, especially when I said some of the research had been carried out in Norway – not much Scandinavian sisterhood that day.

But there’s not much doubt about it. Research across the world by psychologists and economists show that every extra inch of height is worth between $500 and $1000 a year. So a 6′ person earns up to $6,000 a year more than a 5′ 6″ person (or $12,000 a year more than someone an anthropologist would class as a pygmy). UK research showed that tall men earn 5% more than average men and 10% more than short men.

There is some good news amongst the bad for diversity campaigners: fat men don’t earn less than thin men – although fat women earn less than thin ones. And good looks seem to effect both men and women equally with unattractive people earning up to 15% less than their more attractive counterparts.

It may be that we give more respect to taller people or think they are smarter because they look down on us. Historically military leaders would come from aristo backgrounds where they were better fed and likely to be taller than the peasants or local villagers. And there were always tall military headpieces to enhance any natural advantage.

And back to what’s in a name? There was a letter in the Times this week about 50% of recent UK Prime Ministers having names beginning with A, B, or C (and about a third of recent US Presidents also follow that pattern). I wondered if they got fed in alphabetical order at public school and got bigger portions, or perhaps were picked as team leaders more often?

Anyway the bottom line is: Tallness = Leaders = higher earnings and Attractiveness = higher earnings.

Not much joy then  if you are short and/or ugly. Let’s see how HR sort that one out when they are practising non-discriminatory recruitment.

It seems that it’s not just Prince, the Hamster, and Nicolas Sarkozy who can be found wearing height-enhancing heels. Men’s heels or “Meels” are back in fashion. Some are obviously cuban-heeled/glam rock throwbacks but “status shoes” offer a more subtle look. A visible heel of 1.25″ can hide an extra lift of 1.5″ – or at least £500 worth of  height-related earnings!

Updated 2 August 2010: It might help shorter people (but not fat women) to feel better knowing that scientists have shown that midges – the mosquitoes of the North which feast on human blood in the Scottish Highlands during the Summer – prefer tall men and large women.

Tall men because midges fly 6′ above the ground, and large women because they produce a greater quantity of moisture, CO2, and heat (did I say hot air?).

Professor Jenny Mordue, leading the study, said; “Larger people would provide a more substantial visual target for host-seeking midges”.  So pygmies would be safe in Scotland then?