Jewish World Review April 29, 2004 / 8 Iyar, 5764
The trouble with tall people
Tall people have a special status in our culture. Often without good reason, they are thought of as leaders as "standing tall above the rest." In school, the tallest boys are the first to get dates. Tall girls are told they look great "like beautiful models." Short people with big egos are often said to have a "Napoleon Complex," but nobody ever talks about tall, egotistical people as having a "de Gaulle Complex." The average height in this country is 5 feet 9 inches for men, and about 5 feet 4 for women. Anybody below that comes up short.
I'm not proud to admit that I haven't lost a lot of sleep over the fact that a former jockey will probably never be President of the United States. In my entire career, I don't think I've ever been financially discriminated against because of my height. Then again, a comedy writer who is 5-feet-7 is considered on the tall side.
However, my attitude towards heightism changed recently when I read a University of North Carolina study. My consciousness, if not my height, has been raised. It turns out that short people are discriminated against in a way I never knew about financially.
Statistically speaking, the taller you are, the more money you make. Each inch is worth about $789 more per year. Someone who is six feet tall is expected to earn $5523 more per year than someone who is 5-feet-five. Taken over a 30-year career, the smaller person's height makes him come up hundreds of thousands of dollars short. Tall people get better job evaluations and quicker raises. So, short people don't just have to put up with the good stuff always being on the top shelf or tall people sitting in front of them at the movies. A tall person's earning power is head-and-shoulders above his shorter counterpart. And that is wrong.
Our reverence for height comes from primitive times. Back when we lived in caves, size was a more important survival trait than now. It made evolutionary sense. When a guy was coming at you with a spear, he was probably not going to be impressed by your command of the new tax laws or your ability to tell a really funny joke.
About 50 years ago, something strange happened Americans stopped growing taller. In World War I, the average American soldier was two inches taller than the average German. Since around 1955, Germans and most people around the world have been growing taller, but we've stayed the same.
Is this another evolutionary development? Is America genetically ahead of the rest of the world in realizing that judging people by height is silly in this day and age? Will favoring tall people soon be a thing of the past? Is the height gene being phased out like the appendix or the ability to fricassee a lemur? Is American society finally evolving so that it will soon value things like intelligence, kindness, and sensitivity more than an ability to look good in designer clothes?
Don't bet on it. Experts believe our failure to continue to grow taller has more to do with diet and exercise than with developing more humanistic attitudes. We're growing wider, not taller. Meanwhile other countries are catching up to our height because they have been eating well. Maybe this development will have a positive effect. Maybe height will become less and less important to us as we stop towering over the rest of the world.
But I doubt it. I don't think American pride will allow it. Height worship is too ingrained in our culture. Right now, the average height of men in the Netherlands is six-feet-one-inch. The Dutch are four inches taller than we are. The Dutch! Are our leaders really going to sit still and do nothing as the people of the world keep sprouting up and looking down on us? Can't you just hear future politicians talking about closing the "height gap?"
There is bound to be some mistrust and suspicion if Americans continue to come up short internationally. Our proud leaders might even accuse other countries of employing the Ultimate Weapon in the Longitudinal War using extra-high heels or putting lifts in their shoes. That's right. Unless we get over our height hang-up, a vertically challenged president of the future might very well call for inspection teams to look for "Shoes of Mass Elevation."
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame
Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of
them in hardcover. Comment by clicking here. Visit his website by clicking here.
04/22/04: It's over for the Yankees
04/15/04: Silver bullets, tarnished excuses
04/08/04: A basketball fan's Nirvana
04/01/04: Something you're dying to write
03/25/04: Trumping Trump
03/11/04: Spelling still kounts
02/10/04: Leave the Amish alone
02/05/04: 'The State Of The Column' Column
01/15/04 Being Fat And Fit?
01/12/04 How to win the lottery
01/05/04 Sign Of The Times
12/27/03 Your Checklist Of Football Cliches
12/19/03 Clean getaway for holiday shoppers
12/15/03 The Cadillac Of Columns?
12/08/03 Dearest (Insert Name Here) ...
12/01/03 If they advertise it, we will buy
11/21/03 Feeling young, small and intimidated
11/14/03 The ulterior motive behind changes in those airline passenger meals
10/30/03 Real Money From Virtual Reality
10/23/03 Seeing red on new greenbacks
10/10/03 A sorry state of affairs
10/02/03 Revealed! Celeb-authored kids' books arriving just in time for the holidays
09/25/03 Just say 'yes' to dinner
09/11/03 In search of cool
09/04/03 Taking 'Intelligence' Out Of 'CIA'
08/28/03 Relaxation makes me nervous
07/31/03: What empty nest?
07/17/03: America's Big Hang-Up
06/27/03: Mental gymnastics
06/19/03: Why do we lie to our doctors?
06/02/03: Driving around in circles
05/28/03: These writers don't monkey around
05/19/03: Testing the water
05/13/03: New car hell
05/05/03: Bed and breakfast bewilderment
04/28/03: Sexy? That's a laugh!
04/10/03: When 'all A's' isn't good enough
04/04/03: A kibosh on complaining
03/13/03: Cut those billionaires some slack
03/05/03: Will they ever run out of celebs? The pols hope not!
02/26/03: Unfortunately, we can hear you now
02/19/03: Just say what you mean
© 2004, Lloyd Garver