Human Rights Nonsense (8): Heightism or Height Discrimination

comments 28
discrimination and hate / equality / human rights nonsense / law
(Quick reminder about this blog series, so as to avoid misunderstandings: I don’t want to imply that human rights are nonsense; regular readers know that the purpose of this blog is quite the opposite. What I want to do with the posts in this series is to point to the ways in which the language of human rights is used to push nonsense. Burdening the system of human rights with frivolous demands, exaggerated problems, wrong priorities and silly talk only turns human rights into a less nobel cause, easily disparaged by those who have an interest in rights violations).

It’s a fact that taller people make more money than short people, with an additional inch of height adding about 2 percent to income in the U.S. (source, source). Even among female identical twins (whose heights can differ more than you might expect), the taller sister earns, on average, substantially more than the shorter (source).

heightism and wages


Moreover, taller people live better lives, at least on average. They evaluate their lives more favorably, and they are more likely to report a range of positive emotions, like enjoyment and happiness (source). They are also less likely to report a range of negative experiences, like sadness and physical pain (source, source, source). From 1904 to 1984, the taller candidate won the U.S. presidential elections 80% of the time, and only two presidents in the entire history of the United States have been shorter than the nation’s average height at the time of their presidencies (currently that’s 5.9ft) (source).

height of U.S. presidents

height of U.S. presidents



There is no denying that we place a high premium on height, be it social, sexual, or economic, and our preference for height pervades almost every aspect of our lives. Isaac B. Rosenberg (source)

The bias towards tallness and against shortness is one of society’s most blatant and forgiven prejudices. John Kenneth Galbraith, 6.8ft.

The term heightism was coined to describe discrimination based on people’s height, and some propose to include it in antidiscrimination legislation. Others go even further: a special “height tax“.

As in the case of ageism, I don’t claim that there cannot be height discrimination. Very short people are often treated badly simply because they are short. There are still some who believe – often without being fully aware of it – that short stature is an inferior trait and therefore undesirable, and as a result they view short people as inferior human beings, or perhaps even not fully human. This is despicable. If this view leads to discrimination against people on the basis of their height (or rather lack of it) then something must be done about it. Nor do I deny that some people suffer psychologically from their (perceived) lack of height, and sometimes engage in self-mutilation in order to do something about it.

What I do claim here – as in the case of ageism – is that things tend to get blown out of proportion. Is the income differential between people of normal height and slightly taller people really an instance of discrimination? Do we really believe that employers make a conscious choice to pay taller people more? Of course, discrimination doesn’t have to be conscious discrimination. But before you get all worked up about discrimination and launch proposals for legislation and government action, it’s good to consider the possibility that we are dealing with another case of the “omitted variable bias” here. Taller people don’t get paid more because they are taller, but because they (seem to) possess other valuable characteristics, such as self-esteem and positive self-image.

Tall men who were short in high school earn like short men, while short men who were tall in high school earn like tall men. That pretty much rules out discrimination. It’s hard to imagine how or why employers could discriminate in favor of past height. … Tall high-school kids learn to think of themselves as leaders, and that habit of thought persists even when the kids stop growing. (source, source)

Adolescence is a formative period for self-esteem, and when you’re tall in adolescence, you build up self-esteem and a positive self-image, something which will be rewarded in your adult professional life.

For the most part American employers probably aren’t discriminating based on height. They’re “discriminating” based on qualities that tallness seems to encourage. (source)

So it’s not heightism, yet it is discrimination none the less. But perhaps I could ask to focus our attention on other types of rights violations, many of which are much more common and harmful. Our planet is plagued by extreme poverty, famine, war, genocide, terrorism, torture and dictatorship. We can turn to heightism when we’re finished with that. But of course, I’m biased. I’m 6.3 ft, and I would certainly suffer from pro-short affirmative action if such a policy would ever be proposed. So I would dismiss it as “nonsense”, wouldn’t I?

More posts in this series.


  1. Geoff A. says

    Your reasoning here is pretty much nonsense. You’re essentially arguing that heightism is not important because only younger people are height bigots and its only High School height discrimination which causes a lack of self-esteem in adulthood. For that to make sense, you’d have to argue that height bigots some how disappear after they leave High School. In other words, there is no reason to assume that the social stigma which causes low self-esteem in short people during High School would somehow be magically lifted after High School.

    But more importantly, the substance of your argument is flawed. The same argument can be made to suggest that racism doesn’t exist. i.e., it’s not the racism, it’s the low self-esteem that minorities have because they are part of the “out-group” which employers are looking at. And this explains the wage gap between racial minorities and the dominant race of a culture.


    Geoff A.

  2. Harold Godwineson says

    Well, Geoff said everything I wanted to say. If heightism doesn’t exist then neither does racism. I am pretty short and I still suffer from heightism and my own low self-esteme CAUSED by heightism. I didn’t ask to be short but I did ask and prayer as a constantly picked on kid that people would make fun of me or just simply state ”your short” when standing next to me.

    Your argument is nonsense. If people have low self-esteme due to shortness and the fact that they were picked for being short, what caused it? Heightism, of course!

    • I’ll be generous and assume that I am the cause of these misunderstandings, not the readers. So let me try again – against the odds – to make myself clear. It’s obvious that there is heightism in the world, and that is a problem. Especially very short people can suffer from it.

      What you see if you try to read attentively (that’s a big “if” apparently), is that the post isn’t about heightism in general but about wage gaps between people of normal size and very tall people. I argue that this gap isn’t a case of heightism but has other causes. Tall people get paid more not because employers dislike small people, but because they respond favorably (but unjustifiably) to certain characteristics perhaps more often found in tall people. Such an argument isn’t necessarily nonsensical. What is nonsensical is seeing heightism in wage gaps. Heightism in this sense is an explanation looking for a question.

  3. Dear Filip,

    Your title says it all, “Human Rights Nonsense”. That should tell us something. You also state,

    “Our planet is plagued by extreme poverty, famine, war, genocide, terrorism, torture and dictatorship. We can turn to heightism when we’re finished with that.

    Would you dare trivialize racism, sexism, homophobia, and say that when we’re done with extreme poverty, famine, war, genocide, terrorism torture and dictatorship we’ll take care of those? No, of course you wouldn’t say that and you wouldn’t say that because you’d be afraid to. You’d be afraid of being attacked by members of those groups. Poverty, famine, war, etc. have been with us since time immemorial so I guess we’re never going to get to heightism if we follow that rationale are we? That’s a good way to get us away from legislation. Clever Taller. It’s no accident you’re writing the way you are and that you’re 6’3″. But at least you’re an honest taller. I’d rather converse with an honest Taller than a dishonest shorter.

    Allow me to do some group psychoanalysis here. You – and I mean most Tallers – have an innate sense of your own superiority over people who are short. Now you’re probably not the type to overtly take advantage of those who are short (and I’m not referring here to the guy who’s 6’0″ either, I’m referring to those who ARE short) but you do recognize that your height does benefit you. You walk into a room and the attention turns to you. People value and trust your opinion more than the short guy – not because you’re more competent – but because they believe you’re more competent because you are taller. Your competency and credibility are not questioned; as a matter of fact in a ‘confrontational’ situation with a short person your word will be taken over that of a short person. Questioning either the competency or the credibility of a person based on their sex, race or any number of other traits is ILLEGAL the last time I checked. When you walk down the street people move out of your way, they don’t bump into you expecting you to get out of THEIR way. I could go on and on. I’m just scratching the surface. But you get the point I think.

    I invite you to come to my website –
    I recently put up some stuff concerning both the shortest man and the Tallest man in the world. Anyone can see looking at the youtube videos whose links are on my homepage that Tallness and Tallers are valued highly and Short people are literally deserted and abandoned. In short (no pun intended) short people are victims of prejudice and discrimination – BIG TIME, VERY BIG TIME and Tallers like yourself are the beneficiaries.

    – Joe Mangano

    • Joe, of course I accept that tallness can result in certain benefits which aren’t deserved. Heightism is real. My post tried to explain why there are such benefits, and part of the explanation is that people don’t always prefer tallness but some of the personality traits that are fostered by tallness in early age. So, when something looks like heightism it’s not necessarily heightism, but a long-lasting consequence of heightism in early age.

      Of course, this explanation doesn’t justify anything. It just explains (or tries to). So I don’t deny the existence of heightism, nor the negative consequences, especially for very short people. What I ask is two things: careful to call someone a heightist, maybe he or she is reacting to other things; and yes, I think there are more important rights violations. I’m certain many poor people, persecuted people, etc. would readily trade their predicament for a few inches of height. Obviously, this doesn’t make the predicament of short people any better or worse. It just puts it in perspective.

      And regarding your point that poverty etc. will always be with us: this shows neglect of the enormous progress that has been made in the last decades.

      And finally: your analysis of tall people’s thinking about heightism looks a lot like inverted heightism. Careful with that, because it undermines your reasoning.

  4. Inverted heightism? If that were the case you would be the one who was mad as hell and I would be the one who was slippery as an eel.

  5. Geoff A. says

    “My post tried to explain why there are such benefits, and part of the explanation is that people don’t always prefer tallness but some of the personality traits that are fostered by tallness in early age. So, when something looks like heightism it’s not necessarily heightism, but a long-lasting consequence of heightism in early age.”

    This is mere sophistry. Your argument basically says that heightism is real, but the effects of heightism on short peoples’ self-esteem causes more negative outcomes for them than the heightism itself. Don’t you see the fallacy in that argument? The exception swallows the rule. Simply change height to race and it will be easier to see. Basically the argument would go that racism exists, but the effects of racism on the self-esteem of minority populations causes more negative outcomes for them than the racism itself.

    Here, racism is still the root cause of low self-esteem and so the argument cannot simultaneously show that racism is less determinative than the thing which it causes. The same goes for heightism. It makes no sense to say that heightism is real, yet less important than the thing that it causes.

    Such invalid reasoning is only good for “blame shifting”. That is, shifting the responsibility for social inequities off of the backs of those who discriminate and placing it on the backs of those who suffer from those inequities.


    Geoff A.

  6. Geoff, thank you for your comment, but I think it’s somewhat more shameful to elevate the (real) suffering caused by heightism to the level of the suffering caused by racism. That’s an insult to every single slave, kkk victim, colonial “citizen” etc. Please try to keep things in perspective.

    Regarding the “sophistry”: please tell me where I stated that the victims of heightism are to blame for the injustices they suffer. If you’re unable to do so you’re the one guilty of the sophistry. My point is that employers for example, react more positively to tall people, not because they are tall – and hence it’s not heightism – but because of the personality traits that come with tallness. The most you can say is that they discriminate people with less self-esteem; some of those will be short, others not. I think that’s a real difference.

  7. Geoff A. says

    Thanks for replying.

    And, as I’m sure that you know, an analogy doesn’t necessarily demonstrate equivalency. I used an analogy to show that heightism (in some respects) is like racism. I never intended to make a value judgment as to which type of discrimination is worse. To me, such an endeavor is pointless because all forms of bigotry are wrong.

    Additionally, I am an African American male who is also short of stature. So I know a thing or two about racism, and a thing or two about heightism. And while I stand by my statement that comparing two types of bigotry is in bad form, I’d have to say that racism and heightism *feels* equally bad on an individual level. And in fact, I can’t really see any difference between an employer whom denies me a job because I’m black from an employer whom denies me a job because I’m short.

    Furthermore, your rather snarky comment about “please try to keep things in perspective” fails to account for the fact that the height/wage gap in the United States is similar to wage gap statistics on women in the workforce and African Americans in the workforce. As you’ve claimed to have done research on this issue; you’ll remember that researchers at the University of Flordia conducted a study which showed this to be the case and which showed that (controlling for education, age, and experience) taller men are advantaged by height discrimination to the tune of $800 per year, per inch. So if (on average) a 6’0″ man makes $40,000/year in a given field, then a 5’6″ man with a similar resume could only expect to make $35,000/year in that same field.

    Moreover, your argument blames the victims of injustice because it creates a “distinction without a difference” designed to marginalize the significance of heightism. First you posit that short men generally have unique personality defects which are not generally experienced by taller men. You, of course, never make this case in any detail through psychological evidence (it is merely assumed by the fact that a wage gap exists). Then you go on to say that it is actually those personality flaws that employers look at (instead of height) when making employment decisions.

    There isn’t any evidence (that I’ve read) which proves that short men lack personality traits or confidence when compared to taller men with similar education and experience. However, I understand that short men are PERCEIVED by others as being less competent and secure. And that is the very definition of discrimination. And more importantly, even if we assume that your theory is right (that short men lack “something” that tall men posses because tall men were not exposed to height bigotry while growing up), we still have the “distinction with no difference” problem. In other words, where does that leave us? It still suggests that heightism is the overall culprit behind the wage gap, but instead of blaming employers, the argument blames short men themselves for being affected by accrued height bigotry over the years.

    And finally, I can recall another study in which employers were given essentially identical resumes between two applicant but were told (sight unseen) that one applicant was 6’0″ and the other was 5’7″ and 85% of employers picked the taller man on height alone. So how could such a situation conform to your theory? The fact is that employers are affected by height biases because they are part of the general population and are exposed to pop culture, the media, and the same evolutionary cognitive hard-wiring which causes racism, sexism, and other types of biases.

    Geoff A.

  8. Asheley Martins says

    I think that “Heightism” is a new manufactured nonsensical and useless. Everyone knows that men under 5’8″ are not men and are inferior, hot tempered and diseased. Health is based on height – the taller the better – look at Holland and the average height there 6’2″ all the population is healthy.

    No woman of any height (I’m 5’2) will ever consider dating a man under 5’8″ any where in the world – they don’t want loser children who are small and weak and sickly. They go for the highest, I have tons of gfs who are 4’11” to 5’6″ all are in committed relationships with successful men who are at least 5’8″ or taller and I know personally no men who are under 5’8″ that are trustworthy – I suspect there is a deep hatred of women for that group of men. And how is it of any importance?

    This group of men must be behind all the racist, sexist, propaganda that normal people consider repulsive = then that means they should be shunned by society and deservedly so.

    Ladies stay away from sickly men under 5’8″ they are the root of all the problems in the world.

    • ironmonger says

      such an obvious troll. btw, im pretty sure white men throughout history were taller than 5′ 8″ so the idea that short men are the root of all problems is bullshizzle. yes, that’s right, i just implied that white men are the cause of all evils in the world. meh.

  9. Has anyone ever noticed that many political leaders in the past were of average height or shoerter?

    Not anymore though, as humans supposedly progress and being big and strong becomes less important, people are becoming more heightist.

    Julius Caesar was not tall, not was Alexander the Great or Napoleon.
    Why is it that a US presidnt basically has to be close to six feet tall to become president while many smaller men achieved power in the past, men who actually engaged in battle?

    Tall people think they are superior to short people, they therefore believe that all short people consider themseves to be inferio to tall people
    This is not the case. Heightism is caused by tall men and is more prevalent in modern
    North Amerian society than racism.

    Why is is that any famous short man is always mocked for his height?
    If a man is siv foot vie and a celebrity are refernces being constantly made about
    him being a giant?

  10. Gwynll says

    I am a female teenager about to leave high school, and I stand over six-feet tall. I do not believe in a such thing as “heightism.” I agree when you say that your height doesn’t effect simple things like your paycheck or happiness. It may have been proven by science, but in those tests, I’m pretty sure there were other factors as well. The fact that people say that being so tall is such a wonderful thing, that being tall creates this world filled with higher paychecks and less discrimination, is absolutely infuriating. Because I have stood a head taller than my peers all of my life, I have had a life of hell. I had to shop in the adult department of clothing stores since I was in third grade. Even now, I can’t even shop online to find clothing.

    Sure, being tall is good for some things. As a child, you watch silly little cartoons where a shorter child gets a ball stuck on the roof of the house, or a kite stuck in a tree, and the other massively tall child simply reaches up and plucks the toy from where they had lost it. Yeah, we can reach the top shelf at Wal-Mart. Yeah, we can see over a crowd of people to watch a commotion. But life isn’t all grand.

    Being short probably isn’t the best thing in the world, but at least they can find clothing or actually blend in with a crowd. This whole prejudice against taller peoples like myself is ridiculous.

    Sorry if I offended anyone.

    And being short isn’t all that bad.

    And ironmonger? You shouldn’t go off like that. White people aren’t the cause of all the world’s problems. I’m not racist or anything, but that’s like blaming the drop in health care on Obama.

    • Joseph says

      I do not mean to be sexist here but I believe that hieght discrimination disproportionally affects Men compared to women. Also the discrimination is much more toward shorter people than taller people. Thirdly being short is “that bad” I am a five foot tall male high school student, I’ve been called things like shark bait, I have been pushed aside in almost any physical competition with my peers, and to prove the point that women unconsciously choose taller men as mates I have never had a girl look twice at me.

      For women, at least from a sexual standpoint, it is generally accepted that a shorter women is cuter and more attractive. That awkwardness that you feel from being so tall is the same as the humiliation I get from being so short.

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  14. MaddieM says

    I am short I stand at 4′ 11 & 3/4″. I have always been short, I have been physically short for someone three years younger my age all throughout elementary, and only reached normal short height through junior high and on. I have to disagree that being tall in high school and through adolescence affects self esteem. I am the type to take lead in a group project, and be one of the first to talk in front of the class, while I also suffer from a speech impediment. Discrimination is a real thing that most everyone suffers from. Discrimination for hair, skin, eye, color, or discrimination for height, weight, speech. There can even be discrimination to how a person thinks. I know I think very abstractly and have been treated harshly for it. Discrimination is a real problem that is at the root of most things. Terrorism is because countries and religions discriminate against each other, the same with war. Famine could be solved easier if people where more willing to help one another. You say that before we focus on discrimination we need to focus on all of these other problems, but discrimination is the root to all these problems. The best way to fix these big problems is to start with the little everyday problems that create it. Even a small pebble thrown in a pond can cause a big ripple. So maybe instead of arguing each others points people will get farther by going out and helping to get rid of the problem altogether?

  15. panskeptic says

    15% of American males are over 6′ tall. 58% of American CEO’s are over 6′ tall. Now THAT’s nonsense!

    Since we don’t think with our shinbones, yes, there is empirical evidence that taller men are promoted and compensated out of all reason. Therefore heightism doesn’t disappear with a high school diploma.

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  17. Kevin says

    Geoff A destroyed Mr. Spagnoli. Notice Mr Spagnoli didn’t even respond to the last one, he had nothing to write. He tried to race-bait and was called out beautifully on it.

    With that said, I knew a guy with the last name Spagnoli once… he was a tall d**che bag who told my ex-girlfriend to leave me because I was too short, and assumed I was a bad guy because of my height. Needless to say, we broke up. Heightism exists and needs to stop

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