At 15, our son Jim is taller than average for his age. Indeed, he’s as tall as me, as this photo illustrates. Our daughter Nora is below average height, 4′ 11″ at 13 years old, but still squarely in the normal range. But what happens when a child is well below normal — when, say, a boy’s growth puts him on track to be less than five feet tall as an adult?
Some studies have suggested that shorter men are likely to earn less and be at greater risk for psychological problems. As a recent L.A. Times article suggests, conventional wisdom has it that short women are treated condescendingly, and short men are less likely to get dates and may be discriminated against in the workplace.
In response to these concerns, some parents have actually begun treatment with synthetic growth hormone to give their kids a boost — typically around 2 inches, but variable from child to child. The treatments aren’t cheap — they cost upwards of $50,000, but some kids have already seen dramatic results.
So, is it worth it? The Times cites research questioning the conventional wisdom on height:
The real nitty-gritty of the so-called height advantage is money. Tall men make more money.
That has been borne out by multiple studies, including one reported in the October 2004 Journal of Political Economy. Researchers reported that for white men in the United States, every additional inch of height is associated with a 1.8% increase in wages. The tallest quarter of the population earns 13% more than the shortest quarter.
But those same researchers, from the University of Pennsylvania, analyzed the data further. They found that increased income isn’t associated with final adult height. Rather, boys who are taller in their teen years, even if their final height was average or short, earned more than boys who were short during adolescence, even if their final adult height was tall.
So short men who went through a tall spell in high school, around the age of 16, but then stopped growing had similar earning power to tall men who were short at 16, then had a growth spurt. It’s likely, the researchers say, that the workplace isn’t discriminating against short men. Rather, those men who were shorter than their peers in high school may have missed out on opportunities in dating, sports and other activities that teach kids skills that the work force will some day value. “Those who were relatively short when young were less likely to participate in social activities associated with the accumulation of productive skills,” the paper reported.
So being short while young and therefore missing out on social opportunities appears to be the real driver behind the phenomenon of taller mean earning more than shorter men. Perhaps that $50,000 would be better spent on dance lessons and cotillion club than doctors and hormone injections. Though arguably, parents who can afford the shots can also afford the other perks as well. As for our kids, both of them are active in their own ways, each of which seem unrelated to height. Which brings up another problem with relying on research like this: just making your kid taller isn’t necessarily going to make him a success. There are plenty of tall failures, too.
Note:We’re trying a new format for “news” posts for the next week. I’ll be posting news briefs like this every morning and quick “in other news” links every afternoon. You’ll have a chance to let us know what you think about the change next week.