While Marco Rubio was gunning for the Republican presidential ticket last year, he surprised many when he started wearing Mexican shoes with high heels. Analysts claimed, and rightly so, that he was compensating for his height. Was it just a case of low self-esteem or was there good reason behind his decision?
Rubio is five feet 10 inches, the American average height for men. His main opponent at the time, Donald Trump, is six feet three inches. Rubio was definitely beaten on the height challenge. The open secret is that in the last 100 years, America has not had a president who is below the average height. The electorate seems to prefer taller men.
The height advantage is, however, not limited to politics. A research done on Fortune 500 executives revealed that over half of the CEOs were six feet and above and a whopping 90 per cent were above the average height.
Prof Angus Deaton, a US-based economist, conducted a research which indicated that taller men were better educated, had higher incomes, were happier and less prone to stress. His study also revealed that just an extra inch in height increased one’s incomes by 3.8 per cent among women and 4.4 per cent among men.
Yet another research by scholars at the Australian National University suggests that if the average man of about five feet 10 inches gains an additional two inches, and clocks an extra year at work, he would be able to earn an extra $950 per year.
What brings about this disparity?
The general perception has always been that taller people are preferred because they stand out and are considered better-looking. Society, clearly, prefers the tall. Science has done little to change this perception. According to the report by the Australian National University, taller people are perceived to be more intelligent and powerful. This gives them undue advantage in determining leadership among candidates.
Timothy Judge, a management professor at the University of Florida, who also conducted studies on the height advantage, concludes that being tall may boost self-confidence, helping to make a person more successful. It also prompts people to ascribe more status and respect to the tall person. This is perhaps why taller people are known to take more risks. Tellingly, most entrepreneurs are above the average height.
Judge further adds that taller people have better social skills because while younger, they were encouraged to join games and activities that helped them build these skills early. Further, given that they stand out from an early age, they tend to be selected for leadership positions, allowing them to develop leadership skills earlier on in life.
Perhaps the biggest discovery yet was by Christina Paxson, a Princeton economist, who found that nutrition is a major deciding factor when it comes to height. Children who are well-fed tend to grow to their full potential physically and mentally. This in turn translates to better mental and physical development.
This finding means that tall people are not intelligent because they are tall, but rather they are as intelligent as they are tall. Height is just a physical manifestation of a complete development process occasioned by good nutrition. Therefore, when decision-makers give opportunities to tall people, they are not being biased, they are genuinely convinced of the candidates’ capabilities.
While the height advantage cuts across gender, it is sadly not as glaring among women. The benefits tall women enjoy are minimal compared to what men accrue by being tall.
Of course, many research findings are usually based on the law of average. Many short people are successful and not all tall people are super earners.
I am 6’3 tall. I fall in the category of tall men. Have I enjoyed certain benefits and advantages? I definitely have. Perhaps the best advantage for me according to the UK research, is that I am less prone to get a heart attack.
Odhiambo Ramogi is chief executive officer, Elim Capital.