Nice flower, how many billions did you say you’re worth?
In the United States, we tend to have a bigger is better mindset when it comes to cars, houses, etc. Similarly, taller is better. The value of height is unquestionable in basketball, as being closer to the rim is clearly an advantage. However, the perceived value of height extends beyond the NBA- into areas such as dating, business and politics. Why is this so?
In a nutshell, the brain is wired to interpret height as a proxy for social status- this includes health, wealth and power. Our brains are like computers, programmed with software to help us make quick decisions, known as heuristics in the world of psychology. Heuristics are valuable if you think about fight or flight situations when in survival mode. Pause too long and you may become lunch for a predator. This plays into Darwin’s survival of the fittest evolutionary theory. As a result, taller men are perceived to be stronger and more powerful than shorter peers. All things being equal, this is why taller men tend to get the edge over those who are vertically challenged. As a member of the short/er guy fraternity, I’ll take the liberty (and potential heat) of using this polarizing term.
Whether people know the exact reason why or not, heuristics underpin society’s height bias. This is why women weed out the online dating profiles of shorter guys, while men exaggerate when self-reporting height. To highlight, the average height for males on OKCupid is 6’0”. This is two inches above the U.S. Census average of 5’10” for adult males (see graph). Women are slightly less inclined to stretch things, as height bias tends to follow an inverse course- being too tall diminishes their pool of prospects.
To further highlight the impact of height bias in online dating- a study looked at 50,000 interactions over two months and discovered that the likelihood that a man under 5’9” is contacted by a Manhattan or Bronx woman online is just 1.2 percent (based on my chapter in NYC, I can back these figures up). As previously mentioned, height and power are linked based on the brain’s internal wiring. Money, which can be viewed as a proxy for power, is also desirable when seeking a mate. Consider research from Duke University uncovers that women will forego height. The brutal truth is that even short women seem to prefer guys who are 5’10” or taller. Research on online dating sites by Duke University professor Dan Ariely has shown that for every inch below 5’10,” a man has to earn $40,000 more to be seen as equally appealing to a woman.
So whether we know it or not and despite the advancement of society, height bias is alive and well (in some cases it’s cousin, heightism will rear its ugly head). In addition to social settings, we can see heuristics and height bias at work in business and politics if you consider the fact that modern day Fortune 500 CEOs and U.S. presidents average 6’2″. The U.S. has not had a president below average height in over 40 years. Hoops enthusiasts understand the value of height and of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to dating, but should height play a role in influencing outcomes for leadership in business or politics? While being taller makes sense in many sports, business rules don’t typically require that one literally knock out a competitor to win the deal, nor does human resources tally KOs when determining promotions. Further, when is the last time there was a true no holds barred match between presidential candidates?
There are instances in business where height holds less sway, opening the door for men of shorter stature to achieve positions of leadership- particularly when they own the company door. Let’s double-click into the technology industry and look at a few of the companies that, at a point in the not so distant future, will touch every person on planet earth: Facebook, Google and Amazon. Irrespective of industry, these are arguably three of the most powerful companies in the world. Interestingly, the founders of these iconic companies may have found themselves in different roles considering each is well below average height of Fortune 500 CEOs. This triumvirate of short/er guys are carving paths towards world domination and massive wealth- one like, click and buy at a time.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook 5’7” // est. net worth $71 billion
Sergy Brin, Google, 5’8” // est. net worth $49 billion
Jeff Bezos, Amazon, 5’7” // est. net worth $124 billion
This trio could be considered three of the most powerful men on the planet. However, if they had opted to climb the traditional corporate ladder, one or more of them may have hit the proverbial glass ceiling. It would be interesting to know if any of them ever put a toe in the online dating water. Based on OKCupid data, we can assume they would have had a odds similar to Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumber.
Through a combination of education, calculated risks, and a take the bull by the horns mindset, each has achieved truly amazing heights in the business world. It’s also allowed them to bypass the need for accounts on OKCupid. An Inc.com article by John Warrillowtitled Why Shorter People Make Better Entrepreneurs discusses why the start-up road may be a better path for those who are smaller or goofier (yes, I’m taking note):
“Doing versus leading — I think entrepreneurship is an ideal career choice for people who do not have the physical characteristics of leadership. If you’re short (or fat or skinny or have funny hair or weird teeth), company building is an ideal career. When you start a business, you’re not leading anyone. You’re trying to refine a concept, and a premium is placed on ideas, intelligence, and tenacity. It doesn’t matter how physically commanding you are, because there’s nobody to command.”
There are plenty of small but mighty business guys outside of the enterprise tech scene. Those familiar with social media marketing, The 4-hour Workweek, or ABC’s Shark Tank will likely recognize Gary Vaynerchuk (5’7’’), Tim Ferriss (5’9’’) or Daymond John(5’7’’), respectively. In their own unique ways, each has punched above their weight class. As the world becomes increasingly flat, short/er guys are rising up.
Although the internet and technology can be equalizers in some aspects of life, we’ve seen that the digital domain can create height headwinds for shorter guys, at least from a social standpoint. This is not insignificant as 50% of today’s marriages originate online. When will intelligence, character, and heart become the new “must have” filters or drive algorithms? It could improve the divorce rate, which coincidentally is also around 50%. The same frameworks could also help shape leadership selection in business and politics (not that either area needs help). As programmers and psychologists will attest, updating software can be challenging- whether it’s the traditional PC or the more personal PC.
Most people subscribe to the adage that knowledge is power, a positive for the undersized looking to do big things in just about any discipline. However, there is an added benefit for breaking out the books: knowledge adds height -or least the perception of added height. If you’re one of my vertically gifted friends looking for an edge, you too can benefit (not that you need help). Consider the following excerpt from Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion:
“Studies investigating the way in which authority status affects perceptions of size have found that prestigious titles lead to height distortions. In one experiment conducted on five classes of Australian college students, a man was introduced as a visitor from Cambridge University in England. However his status at Cambridge was represented differently in each of the classes. To one class he was presented as a student, to a second class, a demonstrator, to another a lecturer, to yet another a senior lecture, to a fifth, a professor. After he left the room, each class was asked to estimate his height. It was found that with each increase in status, the same man grew in perceived height by an average of a half inch. So that as the professor, he was seen as 2 and a half inches taller than the student.”
This could be valuable/applicable for anyone seeking to boost their influential powers, not just the male underdogs in life. To stay with the dog analogy, much like a smaller dog which behaves as if it were a larger dog, some shorter guys maintain a locus of control mindset (e.g. Zuckerberg, Vaynerchuk) and focus their efforts on things which they can manage. However, there is another contingent that maintain a defeatist attitude given society’s height bias. Who can blame them? Heck, it wasn’t until fairly recently that men’s clothiers even acknowledged the “not so tall guy.” It’s tough to stand tall and exude confidence when it looks like you jumped into your bigger brother’s clothes. Meanwhile, shopping in the young men’s section at Marshall’s isn’t exactly an ego booster either (although it may net you a 20% discount).
We are all dealt a certain hand of cards in life, it’s ultimately up to us how we play the hand. While this article focuses on height headwinds for men in dating, business and politics — there is someone for everyone and opportunities for men and aspiring politicos alike (even the NBA has a place for talent under 5’10” – see the Lakers’ Isaiah Thomas). It’s about finding your talent, developing positive habits, and operating in the right environment. In conclusion, society may favor taller guys but fortune favors the bold. The aforementioned entrepreneurs prove that you don’t have to be tall to stand tall or stand out. It all starts by believing in yourself and taking action.
The above are excerpts from my book Amazing Heights: How Short Guys Stand Tall. It’s a compilation of history, science, inspiring stories, memoirs (comic relief) and action items to elp short/er guys stand tall and stand out. Let’s continue the conversation here or the twitterverse. I’ll also be hosting a podcast, send a note if you or someone you know would be interested in dropping knowledge for listeners.
Thanks for reading and sharing!