Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tall Tales and Reboots

It’s no secret that most men lie about their height. 5’11” (180 cm) – yes, really – but not a hair over, I frequently find myself looking slightly downward when talking to men claiming to be 6’ (183cm). “Six Feet” just has a nice ring to it (unless a cemetery is in view), especially since so many women unabashedly state a preference for men over 6 feet. Then there is the double meaning of the very word “stature.” So, guys tend to round up in order to be included in the 6 foot club – or as close to it as they think might be credible without a measuring tape.

The club in reality is a relatively small one, at least in the US. According to the CDC ( only 15% of adult American males are over 6’0". That’s true both of the general population and of the 20-29 age group – which is to say the overall percentage isn’t skewed by short seniors. In fact, after 200 years of steady increase, the average height of Americans started dropping a couple decades ago; this probably is due to changing immigration patterns. The tallest cadre of males is the 40-49 age group at 176.8cm (5’10”); the age 20-29 group is 176.3 (a sliver under 5’10”) – not a big drop, but a measurable one. Female height peaked in the 30-39 age group at 163.4cm (a bit over 5’5”); 20-29 year-olds average 163.1 (5’5”). For the entire adult US population, the average male height is 5’9” (176cm) and the female 5’4” (162cm).

The variance of my height from the average – for my ethnic group and age, it is negligible – is small enough that I’m rarely conscious of height, whether my own or someone else’s. I never worry about getting close to the stage at a concert in order to be able to see anything; on the other hand, I’m never surprised when my vision is blocked by some tall dude, so that I have to shift my position. Rarely is a woman taller than I (fewer than 5% of women exceed 174cm, and only 1% 180cm). Seldom do I have to duck because of low ceilings or doors. In short, there usually isn’t much reason to think about height one way or the other. It just isn’t an issue.

It comes to mind today only because a (shorter) acquaintance this morning grumpily commented out of the blue, “You like wearing those lifts in your shoes, don’t you?” He was referring to my cowboy boots, which I have an unfortunate habit of wearing some 30% of the time. (Hey, this is Western New Jersey.)

“They’re not lifts, they’re boots,” I said. “It’s the normal heel. They’re that way for stirrups.”

“Yeah, right,” he harrumphed.

It was likely he had experienced some height-related indignity earlier in the morning, so I let the matter drop and changed the subject.

The truth is, he has reason to be grumpy. Short men really do have to try harder at pretty much everything in order to get to the same place as their taller colleagues. Average annual wages rise about $1000 for every extra inch of height of the wage-earner. It’s hard to believe that competence has any correlation with inches, so wage differences have the look of pure bias. A Fortune 500 survey of male CEOs showed that they averaged 6’0” (183cm). Only 3% of CEOs were under 5’7”, even though this is 30% of the male population. Only 3 of the 44 American presidents have been under 5 feet 7 inches; the current occupant of the office is 6’1”. Stephen Landsburg in Slate notes wryly that the five tallest were “Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, Thomas Jefferson, and Franklin Roosevelt—suggesting, incidentally, that height predicts not just electoral success but a propensity to subvert the Constitution… This statistical anomaly works in the other direction as well; the shortest of American presidents was James Madison, who largely wrote the Constitution.” Then, once again, there is that female preference for tall men. Men with children are, on average, 1.2 inches (3cm) taller than childless men of the same age.

Taller women also have advantages in the workplace and in life, but they are not as pronounced as for men. They are there, though. (Leslie Rasmussen in The Huffington Post writes about the trials of being under 5 feet [152cm] in an amusing article: The advantages are not of a Darwinian sort, however. A British study shows that short women are more likely to marry and have children. One reason may be that the pool of taller men is simply larger for them. Whatever their stated preferences about relative height, few men-seeking-women in practice consider it a deal-breaker either way.

So, now I’m conscious of the heightist implications of my footwear. Apparently (at least in the Northeast), they suggest an intent to “cheat.” Perhaps I should wear sneakers more often. Aw, hell. I like the boots, I’ll wear ‘em.

Well, I don’t wear the hat


  1. You know I never considered the affect height would have in the work environment. Yet another reason to work in a virtual environment, and not deal one on one with people. They can't tell how tall you are on the computer screen. :)

    1. Somehow an image just came to mind of a Shetland Sheep Dog uploading a photo of a Great Dane to his online profile.