Getting wired in Zambia

Fish census

Short people got / No reason to live

How tall are you? How much are you making? Those two data points are actually linked, if you believe a couple of scientists at the Universities of Florida and North Carolina. They crunched longitudinal numbers on various American’s careers — and heights — and found that the taller you are, the more you get paid. In fact, you make an average $789 more per year for every inch of height. As Netscape reports:

Think $789 isn’t all that much? Think again. Even after accounting for gender, weight, and age it means that someone who is 7 inches taller, say 6-feet vs. 5-foot-5, would be expected to earn $5,525 more annually. If you add this up over the course of a 30-year career and compound it, it’s literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of earnings’ advantage that a tall person enjoys.

“Height matters for career success,” Florida researcher Timothy Judge wrote in the news release announcing the study he lead along with UNC’s Daniel Cable. “These findings are troubling in that, with a few exceptions such as professional basketball, no one could argue that height is an essential ability required for job performance nor a bona fide occupational qualification.”

Interestingly, this effect also exists for women, and according to the story, “height is even more important than gender in determining salary, and its effect does not wane with age.” (I wonder if that’s really true, and/or what “more important than gender” means. The discrepancies between women’s and men’s wages are simply enormous — far bigger than the differences we’re talking about here.) Nonetheless, as a guy who’s one inch shorter than the 5’9” average height for American men, I guess I’d better get used to my smaller paycheck.

This data will no doubt be harnessed in the blistering debate over Humatrope, the “human growth hormone” being hawked by Eli Lilly and Co. Originally, the drug was recommended solely for kids who were seriously short. But now they’re hawking it at people who are merely kinda short. Shortness itself is being pathologized. Indeed, the FDA has approved the use of Humatrope for “idiopathic short stature” — basically, boys who will grow up to be shorter than 5’3”, and girls headed for less than 4’11”. Critics argue that “idiopathic short stature” is a prettty weaselly medical definition, and basically means nothing other than that your parents think you’re a shrimp and don’t want you to be bullied. Nonetheless, there’s now a lobby group devoted specifically to pushing growth hormones on short kids: The Human Growth Foundation. (There’s a really terrific recent story in the L.A. Times about this.)

There’s more than a slight whiff of Gattaca hanging about all this stuff, I’d say. But if this height-pay correlation proves to be true, it’ll add far more fuel to the fire. It’s an interesting existential question. Would you change your height, if you could?

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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