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Height discrimination (also known as heightism) is prejudice or discrimination against individuals based on height. In principle, it refers to the discriminatory treatment against individuals whose height is not within the normal acceptable range of height in a population. Various studies have shown it to be a cause of bullying, commonly manifested as unconscious microaggressions.
Research indicates that the human brain uses height as a heuristic measure of social status and fitness. Studies have observed that infants as young as 10 months old unconsciously associate physical size with leadership potential, power, strength and intelligence. Both the cognitive and the unconscious heuristic association between height and the mentioned traits has also been found to be stronger when assessing men than women.
The term height bigot was first used on the Mary Tyler Moore episode 7 of season 1 in October 1970. Mary is asked out by a charming, intelligent but very short man. Despite having a good time with him on a date she's apprehensive about going out with him again because of his height. She declares herself a “height bigot” to her friend Rhoda.
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. Heightism was included in the Second Barnhart Dictionary of New English (1971) and popularized by Time magazine in a 1971 article on Feldman's paper.
The word is an example of Time magazine's habit of supplying new words through "unusual use of affixes", 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."
The term heightism can also be seen as an example of the increase in popular usage of phrases, particularly those relating to prejudice and discrimination, patterned after that of the word sexism. Height discrimination can also come in the form of pejorative slang terms such as manlet for short men, or lanklet for tall people.
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. Economists Nicola Persico, Andrew Postlewaite and Dan Silverman conjectured a "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.
Recent findings suggest that height discrimination occurs most often against racial minorities. A 2007 study found that African-Americans reported higher weight and height related discrimination. This discrimination was even higher in female employees.
In 2017, attourney and author lawyer Tanya Osensky published Shortchanged: Height Discrimination and Strategies for Social Change. The book exposes the cultural, medical, and occupational issues that short people face, which are often deemed unimportant and disregarded. Osensky challenges heightism by disclosing some beneficial aspects of shortness and suggesting avenues of activism and change.
Some jobs require a minimum height. For example, US Military pilots have to be 160 to 200 centimetres (63 to 79 in) tall with a sitting height of 86 to 102 centimetres (34 to 40 in). 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.
In 2018, market researcher Seth Ulinski published Amazing Heights: How Short Guys Stand Tall. The book highlights that through technology and an entrepreneurial mindset, members of the "short guy fraternity" are able to blaze their own paths, bypassing potential glass ceilings and pay gaps. For example, short guy fraternity members include: Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in), Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in) and Google co-founder and Alphabet President Sergey Brin 1.73 m (5 ft 8 in). With an estimated net worth of over $150 billion, Bezos is ranked as the richest person in the world, while Zuckerberg and Brin consistently rank in the top 20.
Initial studies indicated that taller men are more likely to be married and to have more children, except in societies with severe sex imbalances caused by war. However, more recent research has drawn this theory into question, finding no correlation between height and offspring count. 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 higher leg-to-body ratio in both genders increased aesthetic appeal. At the roughest approximation the limb ratio findings are consistent with data relating height to human health. Conversely, 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.
A 2012 study found that both men and women are willing to excuse height differences by using a trade-off approach. Men may compensate 1.3 BMI units with a 1 percent higher wage than their wife. Women may compensate 2 BMI units with an additional year of higher education. Furthermore, a 2015 study found that both men and women receive benefits for having a tall spouse.
Nonetheless, on a cultural level in Post-industrial society, a sociological relationship between height and perceived attractiveness exists. For instance, in a 2019 survey performed by Ipsos in Hungary with over 500 respondents, the perfect height for men for 53% of participants was between 1.78 m (5 ft 10 in) to 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in), while regarding female ideal height, 60% of respondents stated that it should be between 1.65 m (5 ft 5 in) and 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in), indicating a predominant preference for average to moderately tall height in both sexes. This cultural characteristic of confering relevance to height as an indicator of attractiveness, while applicable to the modernized world, is not a transcendental human quality. 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.
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. An example is Kevin Connolly's portrayal of Eric "E" Murphy in HBO's television series Entourage (Connolly is 5 ft 5 in or 1.65 m)
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.
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.
Currently, there is one state in the United States of America, Michigan, that prohibits height discrimination. There is pending legislation introduced by Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing which would add Massachusetts to the list. Two municipalities currently prohibit height discrimination: Santa Cruz, California, and San Francisco, California. The District of Columbia prohibits discrimination based on personal appearance. Ontario, Canada, prohibits height discrimination under the human rights code. Victoria, Australia, prohibits discrimination based on physical features under the Equal Opportunity Act of 1995.
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; a 2005 Swedish case involving an unfair height requirement for employment implemented by Volvo car company; 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. Height requirements for employment which are not a bona fide occupational requirement are becoming less common.
Height and suicide in men
A research report published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found a strong inverse association between height and suicide in Swedish men which may signify the importance of childhood exposure in the etiology of adult mental disorder or reflect stigmatization or discrimination encountered by short men in their adult lives. A record linkage study of the birth, conscription, mortality, family, and census register data of 1,299,177 Swedish men followed from age 18 to a maximum of age 49 was performed and it was found that a 5-cm (2-inch) increase in height was associated with a 9% decrease in suicide risk.
- Napoleon complex ("short man syndrome")
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- Persico, Nicola; Postlewaite, Andrew; Silverman, Dan (2004). "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height" (PDF). Journal of Political Economy. 112 (5): 1019–53. doi:10.1086/422566. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-11-18. Retrieved 2013-10-21.
- Nancy Blaker, Irene Rompa, Inge Dessing, Anne Vriend, Channah Herschberg, Mark van Vugt, (2013) "The height leadership advantage in men and women: Testing evolutionary psychology predictions about the perceptions of tall leaders", DOI: 10.1177/1368430212437211, accessed 05/12/17
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- Joey Cheng, Jessica Tracy, Cameron Anderson, (2014) "The Psychology of Social Status", c. 6, p. 123
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- "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
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