Tall people, here is another reason to celebrate: in a study titled “Body height and upward social mobility” by T. Bielicki and J. Charzewski, the authors show that there exists a positive correlation between height and education. The results show that in a significant number of sibling pairs, the taller sibling grows up to achieve a higher level of education. Outlined below is a breakdown of the study including possible explanations of the results and a final thought. I hope you find this as interesting as I did…
“tall individuals are for some reason more likely to advance , or less likely to regress, in socio-economic status during their lifetime than are short individuals. Advancement or regression being measured with reference to an ‘initial condition’ such as parental socio-economic status”
- 214 pairs of brothers and 188 pairs of sisters.
- All subjects live in Poland; from three cities: Warsaw, Kielce and Wroclaw.
- No subject younger than 28 years and none older than 50 years.
- Difference in age between sibling pair no more than 8 years.
- Height difference between siblings no less than 2 cm.
Findings from the study show:
- Out of the 214 pairs of brothers: 70 pairs support the hypothesis (i.e. taller sibling is better educated), 46 pairs of siblings oppose the hypothesis (i.e. shorter sibling is better educated) and 98 pairs null the hypothesis (i.e. pairs of siblings have the same education).
- Ignoring the pairs that null the hypothesis, the ratio of pairs that exceed the hypothesis : pairs that oppose the hypothesis is 70 : 46 – quite a significant difference.
- Out of the 118 pairs of sisters: 56 pairs support the hypothesis (i.e. taller sibling is better educated), 52 pairs of siblings oppose the hypothesis (i.e. shorter sibling is better educated) and 80 pairs null the hypothesis (i.e. pairs of siblings have the same education).
- Ignoring the pairs that null the hypothesis, the ratio of pairs that exceed the hypothesis : pairs that oppose the hypothesis is 56 : 52 – not quite a significant as for the male siblings.
- The average height of the brothers supporting the hypothesis was 176.3 cm, compared to 175 cm for those that oppose the hypothesis.
- The average height of the sisters supporting the hypothesis was 163.9 cm, compared to 163.6 cm for those that oppose the hypothesis.
The interpretation of the results is by no means straightforward so the authors provided two possible hypothetical explanations:
Tall stature itself (e.g. because in the male it is often viewed as one of the elements of physical attractiveness) is a factor in helping the individual to win social acceptance and climb the social ladder. This does not imply that tallness itself can be a passport to a good education, what it suggests is that in many social situations tallness is more likely to be an advantage than it is a handicap.
The stature-education association is brought about by a common ‘third factor’, of purely environmental nature; that there are some individuals who happen to spend part of childhood in a slightly more favourable economic and psycho-social situation than their siblings, and this enhances their physical growth and their capacities for educational achievement.
This explanation implies that the child who later becomes more successful deliberately receives preferential treatment in matters of care and nutrition over it’s brothers and sisters. Is it realistic to make this assumption? The authors suggest that ‘favourite child’ status is not completely unknown in many families. However there are other, more objective circumstances that can bring about such inequalities. One such circumstance is birth order: it’s possible that, because of changes in the socio-economic situation of the family, the later born child may be exposed during their growth to an environment slightly better (or worse) than the one in which their sibling encountered.
Extensive information on the childhood history of each sibling would have to be taken into account before one can reasonably feel certain that any association between height and social mobility, if present, was not purely environmental in origin. The findings from this study are without a doubt very intriguing and support the notion that being tall is a blessing and comes with a host of advantages, some of which may even influence your life without you ever realising!
What are your thoughts about this study? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Stand tall and be proud.
- Image credit for education brain cartoon (cover image): here
- The study article can be found in: The Annals of Human Biology (1983), vol. 10, no. 5, 403-408.