The Undeserved Privilege of Height


Picture by Jowail Mbarkeh

For many, winter break means spending time with relatives and friends of the family over the holidays. During these gatherings, parents inevitably start comparing how their children are doing in school and how tall they’ve grown. During these conversations, I always thought it was odd that the simple process of developing taller is considered an achievement by the child for which parents would take much pride with mom’s sharing notes on their child’s diet and sleeping habits. It makes me wonder that if I had failed to grow with each passing year, would all the efforts put into getting good grades and practicing sports somehow be diminished? Put another way, how much value is being taller with all things equal? 

Published studies in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggest that height is highly related to future success. The research showed that for all things being equal such as age, weight, and other social factors, an increase in height corresponds to higher income. Additional research points to the ugly truth on the other side of this finding: prejudice and bullying exist against short individuals. The acknowledgment of this type of height-based discrimination has resulted in the new term “heightism,” invented by the sociologist Saul Feldman.

Unlike other forms of discrimination, such as gender, race, or religion, discrimination against someone’s height is not something we usually think of daily. And that’s what makes “heightism” such a deceptive type of prejudice that we commit without even knowing it. It’s as if society has secretly programmed us to favor tall people in the belief that taller people are more attractive, talented, intelligent, and powerful. Reinforcing this belief are media portrayals of tall statuesque men and women as the ideal hero who leads the group and saves the day. As high school students, this type of phony influence couldn’t come at a worse time as we all try to find our place in the world and establish our identities. It’s when we are most susceptible to the pressures of fitting in and being accepted by our peers, which leads to a preoccupation with physical appearance, including height. 

Because of this, I would argue that “heightism” probably starts in high school and can significantly impact a student’s self-esteem and overall outlook on the world. If we constantly see tall people given unfair advantages while overlooking the true abilities of short people, how can we interpret this?

We learn this type of prejudice in high school and take it into adulthood. Heightism explains that 68% of U.S. CEOs are over six-foot tall; in comparison, only 15% of the general population are above that height. Are people over six-foot tall simply more brilliant, talented, and better leaders, or has society given them an unfair and undeserved advantage?

As high school students who fight against prejudice of all types, we should be more aware of the undeserved privilege we grant to tall people and work to stop the continuation of “heightism.”


*Judge, A. T.; Cable, D. M. (2004). “The Effect of Physical Height on Workplace Success and Income: Preliminary Test of a Theoretical Model” Journal of Applied Psychology
**Feldman, Saul. “The presentation of shortness in everyday life—height and heightism in American society: Toward a sociology of stature Paper.” Presented at the meeting of the American Sociological Association. Chicago, Il. 1971.
***“Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. Judge, T. A., & Cable, D. M. (2004). The Effect of Physical Height on Workplace Success and Income