To compliment my previous post about how a candidate’s physical appearance affects election outcomes, I figured this is a good time to republish this post from my old blog. I hope you enjoy this oldie but goodie:
June 25, 2003
I came across an interesting bit of economic research while surfing the web today. It’s a paper by Nicola Persico, Andrew Postlewaite, and Dan Silverman of the University of Pennsylvania (that’s my alma mater) entitled “The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height.”
It’s long been known that, especially for men, being taller correlates to earning more money. A big deal has been made about the fact that the taller candidate usually wins the presidential election. In 10 of the last 13 presidential elections, the taller candidate won. (Maybe the reason why the Bush Gore election was so close is because Bush was the shorter candidate. If Bush had been taller than Gore, he probably would have won by a landslide.)
I and others have wondered why exactly it is that businesses prefer to hire tall people. Well, it turns out that actual adult height isn’t what’s relevant. It’s really adolescent height that matters. When adolescent height was added to the analysis, adult height no longer had a statistically significant impact on earnings. The only reason why the correlation between adult height and earnings exists is because adolescent height is a good predictor of adult height. But if you’re a late bloomer, and you don’t start growing until after the age of 16, the economic benefit of being tall isn’t going to accrue to you.
The explanation that the authors of the paper give for this phenomenon, and it’s an explanation I agree with, is that adolescent height has a strong impact on social and athletic success in high school. It’s these social skills and self esteem acquired during the formative years that lead to success in the business world later on in life.
The sad thing here is that the person who’s nerdy and un-athletic in high school is actually screwed for life, and won’t ever catch up.
Here’s a link to the research paper: http://www.ssc.upenn.edu/~persico/research/Papers/short.pdf