Another Benefit to Being Tall: Increased Productivity

Sorry, shorties. Research finds yet another advantage held by your taller peers.

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Photographer: Julian Hibbard/Getty Images

There are many benefits to being tall: more Tinder swipes, an ability to reach the top shelf, and best of all, a higher salary. Tall people get an additional $789 a year in earnings for every extra inch, one study found. Other research has found that chief executive officers stand taller than their underlings. And in a sampling of about half of male Fortune 500 CEOs, author Malcolm Gladwell found that they have three inches on the less-successful members of their gender.

Tall people succeed for both cognitive and non-cognitive reasons, studies have found. They have more confidence and social skills from years of preferential treatment for their body type; they also score higher on tests, probably reflecting better early childhood nutrition.

On top of all this, new research shows that tall people are more productive just for being tall.

For a working paper published in May by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers followed 5,304 men in Indonesia for seven years, attempting to isolate height as a variable for economic success. The subjects worked at a variety of jobs, from agriculture to office work. To account for the inevitability that men will overstate their height, the researchers took their own measurements. They also controlled for health, cognitive ability, and family background.

Over the seven-year period, the researchers collected hourly earnings of the participants to measure their productivity. Controlling for all other factors, taller subjects were more productive. As the chart below shows, an extra 15 centimeters resulted in an additional 1,000 Indonesian Rupiah (around $.08) per hour. "There is no question that height is rewarded in the labor market over and above all other controls," said Duncan Thomas, one of the researchers and an economics professor at Duke. "It's not that height is just a proxy for cognition, and it's not just a proxy for other measures of health. It is rewarded in and of itself."

Source: Duncan Thomas and Daniel LaFave

The results contradict previous literature arguing that tallness is simply an indicator for other abilities. Here, taller people are better at their jobs for no other reason than they're tall: "There is no reason for people to buy your rice because you're taller. They buy your rice because you have rice," said Thomas. "Height is rewarded in the labor market." 

While the research took place in Indonesia, Thomas said the findings should translate to advanced economies. An office job is an office job; farming is farming. And the height-wage gap, while smaller in developed countries, exists in the U.S., too.

The research won't help shorties, whose fate is already decided. But there is hope for future generations of workers. Since height, along with a number of other health indicators, is decided within the first 1,000 days of a child's life, the researchers recommend putting more focus on early childhood health to build more productive societies. "Those 1,000 days are key, not just for your health but productivity," Duncan said. "We should think about evaluating early life investments as economic investments because they'll have a payoff for the entire life course of this kid."

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