height, ability and occupational outcomes

The most recent issue of the Journal of Political Economy has a piece on height, ability and labor market outcomes.  So, apparently height and IQ are related, which then perhaps explains the ubiquitious (?) findings related to height and occupational outcomes (this piece by Judge has an overview of the height-occupation/income link).  The authors argue that height then simply is a signal (well, co-varying artefact really: I am sure evolutionary psychologists would have something to say here) of intelligence and thus the height-job performance relationship.

The lesson, then?  Hire taller graduate students.

Of course, if IQ is malleable (a debate that has raged for years: Gladwell’s upcoming book takes sides on this debate, also see the work of Carol Dweck) then there could be a reflexive confound in there as well — we presume that taller folks are smarter [again, insert evolutionary mechanism], and treat them as such, and thus they in essence have more opportunity to ‘become’ more intelligent in self-fulfilling fashion.

Here’s the abstract of the JPE piece.

The well-known association between height and earnings is often thought to reflect factors such as self-esteem, social dominance, and discrimination. We offer a simpler explanation: height is positively associated with cognitive ability, which is rewarded in the labor market. Using data from the United States and the United Kingdom, we show that taller children have higher average cognitive test scores and that these test scores explain a large portion of the height premium in earnings. Children who have higher test scores also experience earlier adolescent growth spurts, so that height in adolescence serves as a marker of cognitive ability.

Here’s the full article (web site gated): Stature and Status: Height, Ability, and Labor Market Outcomes.


Written by teppo

August 22, 2008 at 7:41 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Great news to start the new academic year…says the 6’7″ grad student…


    Drew Conway

    August 22, 2008 at 8:23 pm

  2. I see no reason to doubt the link between height and cognitive ability. (Did I mention that I’m 6’4″?)


    Peter Klein

    August 22, 2008 at 8:33 pm

  3. As an average-height, 5’10 or so, person, I have to put my money on the treatment/self-fulfilling effect: I’ve started to wear a top hat and three inch shoe lifts.



    August 22, 2008 at 8:47 pm

  4. Hire taller graduate students.

    Um, why in the world would we assume that higher IQ would lead to greater success vis-a-vis academic life? What’s the physical characteristic that correlates with determined doggedness or self-promotion?



    August 22, 2008 at 9:39 pm

  5. Right — just extending the height-success intuition (a stretch; and, I don’t know how the height-success dynamics would empirically play out within a specific occupational population such as academics); that’s all.



    August 22, 2008 at 10:09 pm

  6. This is especially bad news for me since I am actually two three-foot-tall man-children stacked on top of each other (and don’t even get me started on why the ugly one gets to be on top–it obviously hurts our earning potential even further).



    August 23, 2008 at 2:55 am

  7. Malcolm Gladwell is a great writer…FOR ME TO LAUGH AT!

    IQ is highly malleable…THROUGH LOBOTOMIES!

    But seriously, my suspicion would be that height is correlated with nutrition during developmental stages, and nutrient-enrichment is also good for growing brains.



    August 24, 2008 at 4:56 am

  8. Wonder how this cat would explain all the tall idiots I’ve met in my lifetime?



    August 31, 2008 at 7:53 am

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