I did quite a number of less-than-brilliant things this summer. I fell off a treadmill, went running at night alone in the park where Chandra Levy was killed, and scraped my shoulder by falling off a Radio Flyer wagon. Until recently, I attributed these accidents to my being a klutz. But, now thanks to the discoveries of two Princeton researchers, I know that these mishaps were caused by my short stature and the shortage of intelligence that accompanies my height.
Princeton economists Anne Case and Christina Paxson published their study in August 2006 with the National Bureau of Economic Research. Their findings reported that “Taller people earn more on average, because they are smarter on average.” What provoked the study of this topic? “Height is often a marker for good health and good nutrition,” Case said in an interview. “Cognitive ability depends on part on cognitive nutrition as well. On average, taller people are paid more. Could we explain that?”
To do this, Case and Paxson examined data from the UK of two groups of people – one born in 1958 and the other in 1970 – from childhood through adulthood. Every few years, the government collected information about height, weight, intelligence, educational experience, and, during adulthood, pay. Based on these data, Case and Paxton documented that taller people earn more.
Then they noted that, from an early age, height is related to intelligence. For example, even at age five, a variety of intelligence measures – based on conceptual maturity, visual-motor coordination, and vocabulary – are higher on average for taller kids. Their article asserts that this correlation means that height indicates intelligence. Case stresses that on average, children’s test scores from age five correlate with earning potential in adulthood. On average, the higher test scores also correlate with taller heights.
Compelling as this data may be, Case and Paxson only had to look to current events and the Princeton campus to actually confirm their hypothesis. The news is filled with information about tall people scoring big and short people being short shifted. Tom Cruise at 5’8” and Mel Gibson at 5’9” are slightly shorter than the average 5’10” American male, and look what happened to them.
Not only is it a well-known fact that wealthier people make more money, they’ve also made better politicians throughout history. The taller presidential candidate has won nearly every race in the Twentieth Century. Only Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton beat out their taller opponents. For the most part, Americans have had good instincts about their presidents. The recent trend, however, shows that Americans have been electing the shorter – and therefore, dumber – candidates. In the past two elections, George Bush, slightly above average at 5’11”, defeated six foot Al Gore and 6’4” giant John Kerry. Who knows what the world would look like today if the taller, wiser, men had been elected instead?
As we knew all along and USA Today recently confirmed, Princeton is the best school in the country. Whereas we previously thought this was because of our impeccable academics, vast financial resources, and exceedingly small acceptance rates, we now know it’s really because we have some exceptionally tall professors and administrators. For example, Cornell West and Peter Singer, two of Princeton’s most publicly known professors, have distinctively tall frames – not to mention distinctively fashionable suits –while we can boast that both Janet Rapelye and Shirley Tilghman are taller than average women.
Princeton students, too, contribute to the academic quality of the university. As one of this country’s few leading institutions that also supports strong athletics, Princeton has many more tall athletic types in proportion to the entire student population due to its small size. The athletes, because of their height, are the heart and soul of the academic spirit of the university. The above-average percentage of the tall, awkward, gangly types also bring up the average IQ of the rest of the student body, especially those of the diverse, shorter students. Unfortunately, the researchers don’t have data following heights of Princetonians from childhood to graduation, but Case suggests that this would make a very interesting JP or senior thesis.
But why does height correlate with intelligence? Case and Paxson say it is because many times height also correlates with good nutrition and the nutrition in turn promotes growth. A past study by Andrew Postlewaite of the University of Michigan and Dan Silverman of the University of Pennsylvania found that there is a stronger correlation between the future earnings of people who were taller at age 16 than in adult life. Case and Paxson attribute this to the fact that people who were taller at age 16 generally had earlier growth spurts. They came from families who were better able to feed them and passed on better genes. Case and Paxon point out that in developed countries, nutrition accounts for 20% of height differences. This makes complete sense since the main reason why some American children eat McDonald’s instead of nutritious, home cooked meals, is because their parents don’t know any better. These parents are not only incapable of passing on “smart” genes, but are also financially strapped because of their lack of intelligence.
Of course, Paxson and Case’s studies may offend some people. In Western countries, recent research has favored the line of thinking that says that the reason taller people earn more is because they have better self-esteem, which translates into better social skills. Some think there is discrimination against short people. In one call to Case’s office, a man told her to “check her statistics because Katie Couric earns more than Matt Lauer,” even though she’s shorter. But no worries; Paxson and Case’s study concludes that their studies don’t necessarily negate these long standing beliefs. A study that Paxson cites says that self-esteem does correlate with height. Case and Paxson agree with this finding, but say that the correlation may stem from the fact that intelligence also leads to higher self-esteem. Also known as arrogance. When asked to identify presidents who were more “successful,” participants in a study named the taller ones like Washington and Lincoln. Case and Paxson attribute these data to the fact that taller presidents were indeed smarter and thus, more successful than the possibility that people are biased towards tall people. In any case, the offended people are most likely short, and therefore their opinions don’t matter nearly as much.
So what to do with the information that taller people are just plain smarter? Although Case doesn’t think Princeton can start admitting people based on height alone, she does think that her research can help correct the American “myth that all children start at the same starting line.” “This isn’t true,” she said, “Children with poorer nutrition in utero are at risk for all of their lives. If we do want all children to start at the starting line we need to focus on nutrition.”
Editor’s Note: For more about the importance of nutrition, please turn to page 4 to peruse the Nassau Weekly’s Weekly Diet. We here at the Nass care greatly about health, intelligence, and, of course, stature.