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Height discrimination (more commonly known as 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. Constitutionally tall women have resorted to high dosages of oestrogen to reduce their height.
Research indicates that the human brain uses height as a heuristic for determining social status and fitness. The brain automatically associates physical size with leadership potential, power, strength and intelligence, an effect which has been discovered in infants as young as 10 months old. Evolutionary psychologists theorise that this is due to height indicating that the individual had been better fed, indicating higher social status and thus resources available to them, as well as indicating general health and physical strength, the latter of which can be useful in asserting dominance. The automatic association between height and the aforementioned traits has also been found to be much stronger when it comes to assessing men than women.
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. 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."
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 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.
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.
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.
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). 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.
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. 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 lower leg-to-body ratio in men and higher leg-to-body ratio in women increased aesthetic appeal. 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.
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. The husband's gains include beauty that results from his wife's positive attributes that are correlated with her height such as education. The wife on the other hand looks for a tall husband due to them generating higher earnings.
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. 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. 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. The study also found that women were most jealous of others' physical attractiveness, but women of medium height were the least jealous. 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.
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. There have also been cases of very tall actors encountering problems in Hollywood. Dolph Lundgren and Armie Hammer, both standing about 6 ft 4 1⁄2 in (1.94 m), stated that they had lost jobs or were about to do so because of being too tall.
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.
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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.
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- 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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- "Short Guys Finish Last" The world's most enduring form of discrimination. The Economist, 23 December 1995.
- Miami University of Ohio: “Don’t Want No Short, Short Man: The Study Of Height, Power, and Mate Selection”.
- "Physique Correlates with Reproductive Success in an Archival Sample of Delinquent Youth".
- "Adaptive Preferences for Leg Length in a Potential Partner".
- "The leg-to-body ratio as a human aesthetic criterion".
- "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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- Text of the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976.
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- Text District of Columbia Human Rights Act.
- Policy on height and weight requirements Ontario, Canada Human Rights Code.
- Text Victoria, Australia Equal Opportunity Act of 1995.
- Chinese Height Discrimination Case.
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- Kohler Corp. Gender Discrimination Case.
- " Strong Inverse Association Between Height and Suicide in a Large Cohort of Swedish Men: Evidence of Early Life Origins of Suicidal Behavior? The American Journal of Psychiatry, July 2005.