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6 Jan 2010

The link between height and success in life and love

The release of a biography of Hollywood actor Warren Beatty and his seduction of "12,775 women, give or take" offers an irresistable chance to comment on the more serious question of whether all taller men are paid better, rise further up the corporate ladder, and fare better in the relationship stakes.

Warren Beatty was 6'2" (188cm) tall at the height (sorry!) of his prowess (in case you're interested, the book " Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America" can be ordered now - if you read it let me know what you think - I won't be rushing to get my copy). He himself was eclipsed by Basketball player Wilt Chamberlain who is said to have seduced 20,000 women. Wilt Chamberlain was 7'1" (a whopping 216cm) but I am not suggesting there is a direct height/seduction correlation. Whatever you think of these particular claims (the numbers are given a cold shower of reality here) the association between height and success in the office and between the sheets is widely acknowledged, but how does the evidence stack up?

Widely quoted is the fact is that for every inch above average height someone could expect to earn an additional $789 per year, research drawn from studies involved around 85,000 people. Another group of researchers looked into the reasons that tall people appeared to be paid better. They found that height at age 16 is more important than adult height. Indeed, for every extra inch of height a man had at age 16, he could expect to earn an extra $850 as an adult. They proposed that this was due to increased self confidence that came from being taller and participating in more clubs and sports in school (statistics buffs can find the original articles in the Journal of Applied Psychology and the Journal of Political Economy).

But height may not just affect how well you're paid - it may also affect how high you climb on the corporate ladder. Journalist Malcolm Gladwell did an informal survey of the heights of CEO's of Fortune 500 companies, and found that they are "virtually all tall", with an average height of just under 6 feet, versus an average height of 5'9" (175cm). Even more telling, 30% of the CEO's were 6'2" or taller, versus 3.9% of the overall US population. Similar studies by Australian academics apparently reached similarly encouraging conclusions for all tall people with serious career ambitions. Just as encouraging for tall people as these facts was Mr Gladwell's explanation of our unconscious decision making: "We see a tall person, and we swoon"!

Talking of swooning, we come to perhaps the most encouraging research (assuming you're tall): the conclusion from a paper in the well-respected scientific journal Nature that "there is active selection for stature in male partners by women". This translated into the fact that married men in this study of over 3,000 people were significantly taller than bachelors perhaps "due to shorter men being disadvantaged in the search for a mate". A similar study in the UK also concluded that tall men have an advantage when it comes to competing for women.

I may never compete with Warren Beatty in the seduction stakes, but I believe it's time to spruce up my wardrobe in time for the pay rise and promotion that must surely be coming my way . . .

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