Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

British women walking taller

Scientists say British women have grown taller faster than most of the rest of the world.

British women now average 5′ 5″ (164.4 cm) compared to 5′ (153.4 cm) at the start of the century.

This pushes them up the world league table of the tallest from 57th place in 1914 to 38th place today.

British men have grown to 5′ 10″ (178 cm), up 10.6 cm, and have moved up from 36th to 31st place.

Who are the tallest?

Latvian women are the tallest and  average 5′ 7″ (170 cm)

Dutch men are the tallest at 6′ (183 cm)

Who are the shortest?

Men from East Timor and the Yemen at 5′ 3″ (160 cm), Laos (161 cm), Madagascar and Malawi (both 5′ 4″ or 162 cm).

Women from Guatemala at 4′ 11″ (149 cm), the Philippines  (150 cm), and Bangladesh, Nepal and East Timor (all 151 cm).

The researchers compared data from people who were 18 in 914 with those of the same age in 2014. The difference is partly genetic and partly due to nutrition, sanitation, and health. Particularly important is the mother’s health and nutrition during pregnancy.

Height is a mirror to our social environment” said Professor Majid Ezzati from the School of Public Health at Imperial College.

The biggest increases have been in rapidly developing countries such as Japan and South Korea where women are now 8″ (20 cm) taller than before WW11. Iranian men have grown by the same amount.

Americans have grown by 5cm over the review period but have dropped down the league tables from 3rd for men and 4th for women in 1914 to 37th and 42nd place respectively. This was probably connected to their obesity problem – lots of calories but not good nutrition – said Professor Ezzati.

In sub-Saharan Africa people are actually getting smaller.

Tall people tend to have a longer life expectancy, with a reduced risk of heart disease. On the other hand, there is some evidence that they are at greater risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal, postmenopausal breast and ovarian cancers.

One hypothesis is that growth factors may promote mutated cells,” said another Imperial co-author, Elio Riboli.

I’m always a bit bemused by stories like this about average height because I come from a tall family and am used to being around tall people. 6′ (183 cm) doesn’t seem tall to me yet it’s taller than the average British male.

And being tall does have some advantages at work.

League table showing top 10 from 187 countries surveyed

The nations with the tallest men in 2014 (1914 ranking in brackets):

  1. Netherlands (12)
  2. Belgium (33)
  3. Estonia (4)
  4. Latvia (13)
  5. Denmark (9)
  6. Bosnia and Herzegovina (19)
  7. Croatia (22)
  8. Serbia (30)
  9. Iceland (6)
  10. Czech Republic (24)

The nations with the tallest women in 2014 (1914 ranking in brackets):

  1. Latvia (28)
  2. Netherlands (38)
  3. Estonia (16)
  4. Czech Republic (69)
  5. Serbia (93)
  6. Slovakia (26)
  7. Denmark (11)
  8. Lithuania (41)
  9. Belarus (42)
  10. Ukraine (43)

Source: eLife


What’s in a (politically correct) name?

A reliable source informs me that at a university not far from here the language commission has decreed that the word pygmy is no longer acceptable. The preferred term is; “ little people of the rainforest”.

This begs lots of questions: leaving aside historical Greek references to races of dwarves, anthropologists apparently use the term to describe people with an average adult height of less than 150 cm or 5 feet.

Such people are found in equatorial Africa, Asia, and South America but I wasn’t aware of a population around Manchester.

Apart from that, and recognising that we are all part of the global village, has the university gone far enough?

Surely the word “little” could be considered size-ist ie discriminating against people who are big. You would probably have the same problem with small ie not large.

If the concern is that pygmy is sometimes used in a pejorative way, for example to describe academics as “intellectual pygmies“, isn’t “little people” condescending? Perhaps “people of diminutive stature” might be more acceptable. After all we associate diminutive with pet names amongst friends and families.

And what do we call pygmy goats and pygmy shrews now? Even though universities are struggling with budget cuts and redundancies, I feel there is more work to be done here by the language commission  (although Rome burning and Nero spring to mind).

First posted 16 May 2010

Those you have read – top 10 in 2010

When you first sit down to write a blog you hope people are going to want to read it – unless you plan it as a private journal where you can unburden yourself or have a rant at the world (OK so occasionally I have a rant too).

So it’s great for me that so many people have read my blog posts and some of them have even posted comments  – usually in a friendly way although occasionally mischievously.

So which posts had most readers in 2010? In reverse order:

10th most read: Living Together Apart (LTA) on the increase

This was a follow-on from my first ever posting and obviously reflected current trends among couples of all ages

9th most read: Daydream believer

This was an early post which originated in contributions I made to the Daily Mirror and Eve magazine. Perhaps we are all romantics at heart and want to believe in the power of dreams but it was also expanded into a guest business blog for my friends at Smoking Gun PR

8th most read: I’m stressed – gaze into my eyes

Well we all prefer a pretty face don’t we but it turns out that swearing also helps us withstand pain better!

7th most read: What sex is your job?

And still on pretty faces it seems you can sometimes be too attractive for your own good.

6th most read: Shoot yourself in the foot – join Facebook

As an avowed non-Facebook person it was pleasing to see that people did want to understand the down-sides of entrusting your personal life to it.

5th most read: Pigeons smarter than people??

Surprisingly popular perhaps but maybe it explains why some people still feed these flying vermin, especially outside high street bakers’ shops.

4th most read: What makes you happy?

And on a more positive note .. don’t we all want to be happy?

3rd most read: So many “friends” yet still lonely

My first post about the perils of Facebook – and yes I admit it was a bit of a rant!

2nd most read: 101 reasons why you can’t live together

The very first thing I ever posted and it obviously struck a chord (and thanks to everyone who contributed both willingly and unknowingly!)

But by an overwhelming number of views – 3 times the second most read – the clear favourite and most read post:

Blushing – do men find it attractive?

This was another early post and originated with a contribution I made to an article in the Daily Express but has continued to appear in my top posts section.

So thank you everyone and all the very best for 2011 when I will do my best to bring you more interesting posts.

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Beauty may only be skin-deep but….

How we look is important but to some people it’s everything.

In America 1 in 3 women think the way they look is more important for their self-esteem than intelligence or job performance.

Students said they would rather marry an embezzler, a shop lifter, or a drug smuggler than someone who was obese.

And 11% of them would abort a foetus if they knew it was  genetically disposed to obesity. It’s perhaps no surprise then that fat women are 20% less likely to get married than slimmer ones.

Now Deborah Rhode, the Director of Stanford University’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, has published a book; “The Beauty Bias: The injustice of Appearance in Life and Law”. In it she asks such searching questions as why they spent more on Sarah Palin’s makeover and personal shopper than on a foreign policy advisor? She discovered that good looking teachers are considered better educators and that attractive lawyers earned 12% more than their plainer colleagues despite being no more competent.

I’ve posted on this topic before, about tallness, attractiveness and earnings and about “erotic capital” and how (usually) women can exploit their looks. Taking a slightly different view Rhode refers to the “bloopsy” effect which is where beautiful women, especially those with big breasts, are considered dumb even if they have a PhD.  Attractive women have been known to be sacked for being too attractive.

But so have unattractive or ugly people and research shows that ugly criminals get longer sentences – one way to beautify the neighbourhood I suppose. Now it’s being suggested that you could be sued for calling people ugly or not attractive enough for a job. Don’t HR people and the diversity police have enough to do?

Updated 14 July 2010: Anyone watching last night’s Channel 4 programme “The Ugly Face of Beauty” would have been horrified by the sight of operations that went wrong. Or of an England footballer’s relative wanting to have the UK’s biggest boobs (double J) plus an unnecessary liposuction on her size 8 body.

But the really scary part was that 50% of 16-21 year olds say they would like plastic surgery. “Boob jobs” are the most popular in the UK at around £3,000 (but only £800 in Cuba) with many unscrupulous, not to say unqualified, clinics offering surgery as part of a holiday package. Next week: “tummy tucks” that end up looking like shark bites!


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?