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New Study Shows Size Really Does Matter (At Least in Australia)

By L. K. Regan

U.S. presidents are two inches taller than the average American, and the taller candidate has won the majority of elections since 1900. Average height of CEOs is just under six feet (for American men in general it's five foot nine). And research consistently shows that taller men are more successful financially and reproductively (tall men are more likely to have kids). Now there's yet more proof of the height-success connection as a recent study from Australia indicates that being bigger really is better—at least in the perceptions of employers. According the results of research published in the Economic Record, taller men consistently earn more money than shorter men, even if they're not just tall but also overweight. Time to reconsider elevator shoes?

The study, titled "Does Size Matter in Australia?", used newly available data from the Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey to calculate the relationship between hourly wages and both height and heaviness, in the form of BMI, or Body Mass Index, a commonly used calculation for obesity. As the study says, "As well as providing the first results for Australia, we also take advantage of the fact that HILDA contains detailed questions on the health status of the respondent. This allows us to ask the question: controlling for self-reported physical health, do taller and slimmer workers earn more?" As co-author Professor Andrew Leigh later explained in an interview, "We began the project with a primary interest in whether overweight people were paid less, but eventually realized that the most interesting thing in the data is the relationship between height and wages."

How much of a relationship did they find? For every 10 centimeters of body height, the researchers found a three percent increase in hourly wages. Put in more easily imagined terms, this means that guys make nearly a thousand bucks ($950 to be precise) more per year for five centimeters (roughly two inches) of additional height. As Professor Leigh explains, "Our estimates suggest that if the average man of about 178 centimeters gains an additional five centimeters in height, he would be able to earn an extra $950 per year—which is approximately equal to the wage gain from one extra year of labor market experience." So, work for a year, or just wear platforms—it amounts to the same thing in the end.

Interestingly enough, the original question the researchers were pursuing—whether heavier people suffered from lower wages—turned out to be a wash. As the authors write, "To answer the question posed by our title, body size does indeed seem to matter in the Australian labor market. We find that taller workers earn significant wage premiums, with the results being strongest for men. However, we find no significant relationship between BMI score and wages." In other words, there was a height reward, but no obesity penalty. At least there's a spot of good news!