By: Alexandra Riggle
Studies show that both men and women prefer tall men over short men. This is evident in American society in myriad ways- that tall men make more money than equally educated shorter men with the same credentials, experience, and abilities, for example.
Heightism begins early in childhood and persists well into adulthood, perhaps indefinitely, according to Jonathan Rauch, author, journalist, and Brookings Institute guest scholar. Tall boys are seen as more mature and capable. Short men are seen as less secure, less capable, less positive, less masculine, and less successful, according to Rauch.
Possibly more disturbing than the phenomenon of heightism itself is that I, at 5 feet tall, am as guilty of height discrimination as anyone. I have always had an inexplicable preference for tall men, and I've never been shy about saying so. "I've never dated a man under 6 feet tall," I've declared time and time again, almost proudly. What's worse-- until recently, I didn't give much thought to my bias or necessarily even recognize it as such.
While some biases may be products of culture (whatever that means), unfortunately, heightism appears to be universal. In an extensive article entitled "Height Discrimination in Employment," Isaac B. Rosenberg, citing several sources, wrote:
"Heightism is instinctive. We cannot help making subconscious height-based comparisons. We engage in “gaze behavior”—a primitive way of establishing social hierarchies on the basis of whether we are looking up to or down on another—whenever we encounter someone. To those we look down on, we ascribe less social power and negative character traits. We even afford short people less personal space.
Those we look up to, however, enjoy a “halo effect,” the automatic attribution of positive personality characteristics to them because of their height. This is perhaps most evident in our selection of presidents. We almost always elect the taller presidential candidate. In fact, we have not elected a shorter-than-average president since 1896 and have elected scarcely a halfdozen short presidents overall. Furthermore, a candidate’s margin of victory derives, in part, from his height."
While our primitive biological tendencies may help explain our behavior, they certainly offer little consolation to people of shorter stature--especially men-- who routinely get the short end of the stick (no pun intended).