In the 1960s and 70s, Thomas Gregor, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt, traveled to central Brazil to see if height was prized by people beyond the developed world. For years, he observed the Mehinaku, a group that lived in the tropical forest and was so thoroughly unmodern that they had never seen eyeglasses. He spent time with the Navajo and the Trobriand Islanders of Papua New Guinea, too. “In no case,” he would later write, “have I found a preference for short men.”
The bias that Gregor showed to be embedded into human social life plays out quantifiably in the professional world: In Western countries, a jump from the 25th percentile of height to the 75th—about four or five inches—is associated with an increase in salary between 9 and 15 percent. Another analysis suggests that an extra inch is worth almost $800 a year in elevated earnings. “If you take this over the course of a 30-year career and compound it,” one researcher told Malcolm Gladwell for his book Blink, “we’re talking about a tall person enjoying literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of earnings advantage.” (The research suggests that height makes only slightly more a difference for men than women.)
While every additional inch appears to be an advantage, some inches are worth more than others, according to one recent study. Among men, the sharpest jump in earnings the researchers documented was between 5’4” and 5’6”. They found that the returns on height begin to plateau around 6’0”.