Tall Stories

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 28, 2012    •    645 Views

Explaining why no N.B.A. team drafted Jeremy Lin and the Knicks only picked him as a backup, New Yorker financial writer James Surowiecki focuses on height. But not how you might expect.

Surowiecki talks about height and good looks to illustrate how stereotypes affect our success. If you are tall or attractive, it is more likely that people will expect you to have more adept social skills, to be smarter and “more effective.” Because Jeremy Lin, an Asian-American, did not fit the point guard stereotype, initially, his talents were ignored.

Being tall, though, should help him. A 2004 New Yorker article quoted one study that indicated that an average six-footer will earn close to $165,000 more than someone who is 5’5″ during a 30 year period. That six-footer is also more likely to get a promotion, and yes, become a U.S. President. Of the 43 different people who have been President, only 5 were below average in height.

Here are some height stats:

  • Nicholas Sarkozy (France): 5’5″
  • Barack Obama (U.S.): 6’1 1/2″
  • Michelle Obama (U.S. first lady): 5’11”
  • Angela Merkel (Germany): 5’8″
  • Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron (U.K.): approximately 6’0″
  • Stephen Harper (Canada) 6’2″
  • Carla Bruni Sarkozy (French first lady): 5’10″
  • Napoleon Bonaparte: 5’6″


And, the Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, is 6’2″.

The Economic Lesson

Called anthropometric history, the history of human height has become an economic field of study. Economists use height data to form hypotheses about GDP, national affluence, food consumption, real family income, wages and prices.

Connecting height and economic growth, this New Yorker article tells us that Americans grew taller more than 50 years ago. Based on military records, a typical male was 67 inches during the mid-1800s, close to 70 inches in 1955, and since then, stayed there. In 1939, an average forward on the University of Wisconsin’s basketball team was 6’1″. In 1999, he was 7 inches taller.

An Economic Question: Why might height and GDP be related?

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