NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 17, 2005

Taller workers make more money than those of average height, but this wage premium stems largely from experiences enjoyed while being taller in their teen years, say economists from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan.

It is estimated that among white males, every additional inch of height as an adult is associated with a 2 percent increase in wages. This has often been attributed to evolutionary selection or superior self-esteem.

The real reason behind higher wages, however, is not adult height but teen height. The researchers found that teen height is associated with participation in social activities such as athletics, school clubs and dating that play a strong positive role in their development:

  • Shorter teens are less likely to participate in social activities that may facilitate the accumulation of productive human capital such as social adaptability from working in groups, discipline and motivation.
  • Participation in high school athletics is associated with an 11.7 percent increase in adult wages.
  • Participation in every additional club other than athletics is associated with a 5.1 percent increase in wages.
  • Every inch of youth height is associated with a 2.6 percent increase in adult wages.

The researchers add that there is an expected penalty incurred by the as-yet-unborn children of short parents since they themselves will likely be shorter in height.

The results do not necessarily mean that compulsory participation in athletics or clubs would raise expected adult wages -- it may well be that success in those activities is the driver for the formation of human capital.

Source: Nicola Persico et al., "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height," Journal of Political Economy, October 2004.


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