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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 seen more against men whose height is below the average height for males of a population than for women. [1] [2]

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.[3][4] Heightism was included in the Second Barnhart Dictionary of New English (1971)[5] and popularized by Time magazine in a 1971 article on Feldman's paper.[6]

The word is an example of Time magazine's habit of supplying new words through "unusual use of affixes",[7] 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."[8]

Heightism is one of a proliferation of neologisms relating to prejudice and discrimination that are lexically patterned after sexism.[9]

Height and social discrimination

Employment wage and social experience discrimination

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, sex, and weight. [1] 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. [2]

In business

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 64 to 77 inches (160 to 200 cm) tall with a sitting height of 34 to 40 inches (86 to 102 cm).[10] 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.[11][12]

A survey of Fortune 500 CEO height in 2005 revealed that they were on average 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m) tall, which is approximately 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) taller than the average American man. 30% were 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) tall or more; in comparison only 3.9% of the overall United States population is of this height.[13] Similar surveys have uncovered that less than 3% of CEOs were below 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) in height. Ninety percent of CEOs are of above average height.[14]

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.[15][16] However, more recent research has drawn this theory into question, finding no correlation between height and offspring count.[17] 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.[18][19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] The study also found that women were most jealous of others' physical attractiveness, but women of medium height were the least jealous.[24] 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.[25]

Paradoxically, a study has shown that in Britain, short women were the most likely to be married and have children. Some reasons which have been suggested for this situation include the fact that short women start puberty earlier than taller women who experience delayed fertility since they spend more energy growing, and that shorter women have a larger pool of men to choose from if they wish for a taller mate.[25] Dr. Adam Eyre-Walker from the Centre for the Study of Evolution at the University of Sussex, argues that the study was done on British people, and so the choices may actually be a result of the influence of culture.[25]

It is unclear and debated as to the extent to which such preferences are innate or are the function of a society in which height discrimination impacts on socio-economic status. Certainly, much is always made in newspapers and magazines of celebrity couples with a notable height difference, especially where a man is shorter than his wife (for example, Jamie Cullum, 7 inches (18 cm) shorter at 5 ft 4 in (1.63 m) than Sophie Dahl, though the difference is often exaggerated).

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. The portrayal of short men in the media is in general negative. In general, short statured men are portrayed as unsuccessful in career, romance, etc. (e.g., Spence Olchin, Bud Bundy, and George Costanza) or they are unlikeable tyrants in need of compensating for "something" (e.g. Lord Farquaad from the Shrek films or to a lesser degree Edward Elric). Notable exceptions are roles played by Michael J. Fox (especially Mike Flaherty from the TV series Spin City, where a short man is portrayed as an attractive and likable person, who is successful both in romance and career), and Kevin Connolly's portrayal of Eric "E" Murphy in HBO's television series Entourage (Connolly is 5 ft 5 in or 1.65 m)[26]

Similarly, shorter men are often denied leading roles. Although some famous cinema actors such as Alan Ladd 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) and Tom Cruise 5 ft 7 in (1.70 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 12 in (1.94 m), stated that they had lost jobs or were about to do so because of being too tall.[27][28]

When Daniel Craig was announced as James Bond in 2005, intense criticism of the casting decision (made by Eon Productions) included the notion that the actor was too short to play 007, even though at 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) Craig is above average height for a white British male. There have also been complaints on Henry Cavill being chosen to play Superman, arguing that he at a stature of 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) was too short for the role.

In the Star Wars saga, Darth Vader is depicted as having longer artificial legs attached, making him massive and taller than his original form. Vader's spoof, Dark Helmet in the movie Spaceballs (1987), is depicted as being very short in stature.

In the Monty Python sketch Archaeology Today, an interviewer (Michael Palin) demeans Professor Lucien Kastner (Terry Jones) for his 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) height, calling him a "five-foot ten-inch weed," and continually praises Sir Robert Eversley (John Cleese) for his 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) stature.

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.[29]

In Jhonen Vasquez's Invader Zim, the Irken hierarchy is based on height, with the tallest being the leader, and the shortest receiving no credit for conquering planets or given the worst assignments, such as Skoodge's case.

The Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode Jones features a serial killer who preys on shorter women. The detectives theorize that these women are targeted because "they made [the killer] feel powerful, [the killer] could dominate them." Eventually Alexandra Eames (played by Kathryn Erbe, 5 ft 2 in or 1.57 m) baits herself for the suspect, who shows an attraction to her.

In an episode of The Simpsons called Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy, Homer criticizes his father for never saying anything nice to him. In response, Grampa says, "I was always proud that you weren't a short man."

S&M Short and Male, a documentary aired in 2008, showed obstacles that short statured men face every day in life, love and work.


Currently, there is one state in the United States of America, Michigan, that prohibits height discrimination.[30] There is pending legislation introduced by Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing which would add Massachusetts to the list.[31] Two municipalities currently prohibit height discrimination: Santa Cruz, California[32] and San Francisco, California.[33] The District of Columbia prohibits discrimination based on personal appearance.[34] Ontario, Canada prohibits height discrimination under the human rights code.[35] Victoria, Australia prohibits discrimination based on physical features under the Equal Opportunity Act of 1995.[36]

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;[37] a 2005 Swedish case involving an unfair height requirement for employment implemented by Volvo car company;[38] 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.[39] Height requirements for employment which are not a bona fide occupational requirement are becoming more and more uncommon.

See also


External links

  • National Organization of Short Statured Adults
  • The Social Complex Blog
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