Short men have been sold a tall story. Life chances aren’t dictated by height

Researchers at the University of Exeter have claimed that short men have ‘reduced chances in life’. The Napoleon complex, ran the headlines, may be justified.

But, while their study finds a link between height and salary, it doesn’t show that one is caused by the other (see our expert verdict below).

The researchers analysed DNA and socio-economic data from over 120,000 people in Britain, between the ages of 37 and 73. They found that a three-inch height difference between two men corresponds to a difference in annual income of £1,000. They also found that tall people are more likely to work in skilled jobs.

The study, published in the BMJ, found that in women, body fat levels were more reliable as an indicator of success. The researchers observed the same £1,000 difference in annual income between two women when one of them was genetically predetermined to weigh 14 pounds more. The heavier woman also scored higher on the Townsend deprivation index — which is used to rate a person’s affluence based on employment, car ownership, home ownership and household overcrowding.

Tim Frayling, the study’s co-author, said it was important to look at ‘internally driven’ causes of reduced affluence, such as mental health issues associated with being overweight.

‘There are conscious and subconscious biases about how someone looks. Does this factor into employment discrimination when they are interviewed for jobs or try to move up the career ladder — [or] social discrimination when it comes to choosing mates?’

The researchers concluded: ‘These findings have important social and health implications, supporting evidence that overweight people, especially women, are at a disadvantage and that taller people, especially men, are at an advantage.’

Instant analysis
By harnessing data obtained using the UK Biobank the authors of this paper sought to demonstrate that there was a causal link between height, body mass index and some selected measures of socioeconomic status such as education and income.

However, despite the complexity of the design and the analysis I remain unconvinced from the data presented about the direction of the causality. In other words, does a reduced height and an increased BMI really lead to lower educational attainment and a reduced income or is it actually — wholly or partially — the other way around?

This complicated paper — which would have cost a tidy sum to bring to publication — raises two other questions. Was the study worth doing and are the results worth getting? My answer to both is an unequivocal no and I would also implore the UK Biobank to focus more on facilitating much-needed research on diseases such as cancer and heart disease rather than dubious social policy.
Ranking score: 1/5