Tall teenagers earn more in later life

Aug 31 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The idea that tall people earn more and do better in the workplace is widely held. But it is how tall you were as a teenager that provides the key to how much you can expect to earn as an adult, according to researchers.

While research has always suggested that tall adults earn more money, University of Michigan economist Dan Silverman has found that what matters most is how tall a person was as a teenager.

"Two adults of the same age and height who were different heights at age 16 are treated differently in the labour market," he said.

"The person who was taller as a teen earns more. Being relatively short through the teen years - as opposed to adulthood or early childhood - essentially determines the (wage) returns to height."

Using data from the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and Britain's National Child Development Survey, Silverman and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania found that each additional inch of height at age 16 is associated with a 2.7 per cent increase in wages among white American men and a 2.6 per cent increase among white men in Britain - regardless of their choice of job.

When youth height was taken into account, the effect of adult height on wages is virtually zero, they found.

Moreover, the teen "height premium" does not diminish much when variables such as family resources, good health, native intelligence and self-esteem are taken into account.

The study, published in the Journal of Political Economy, included an analysis of men's heights at ages 7, 11, 16 and 33. But only age 16 height influenced future wages, the results show.

"Among all recorded heights, only age 16 height is estimated to have an economically large and statistically significant effect on adult wages," Silverman said. "No other height makes an appreciable contribution to the height premium.

"Since the effect of adult and preteen heights on wages is nearly zero, the adult height-wage disparity is not due to a taste for tall workers. Rather, the different outcomes for taller and shorter workers appear to reflect a characteristic correlated with teen height."

Silverman suggests that participation in extracurricular and other social activities as a teenager may play a significant role in the teen height premium.

Playing school sports is associated with nearly a 12 per cent increase in adult wages and participation in every additional club other than athletics correlates to about a five per cent increase in wages.

Those who were relatively short when young are less likely to participate in social activities like athletics, school clubs and dating that help teens hone their social skills - skills that eventually will help them secure good jobs as adults, he suggested.

The research comes only months after a survey by Barclays bank in the UK found men called David and women called Susan are more likely to earn a six-figure salary.

So presumably, a union between two tall parents producing carefully-named offspring is guaranteed to produce a highly lucrative family conglomerate.