If you want to be president, it helps to be tall.
Of the 43 different people who have been president, only six were under 5’8″. To find the last president who was not a six-footer, we have to go back to Jimmy Carter at 5’9 1/2″, Meanwhile, for those who were shorter than 5’8″ like James Madison and John Adams, we can look at the nineteenth century when our average stature was smaller.
You can see below that most of the 2016 presidential hopefuls are close to six feet although several of the shorter male and female candidates probably added a fictitious inch or two:
As for G-20 world leaders, there is more height variety:
Where are we going? To the connection between height and success.
When Height Matters
Similar to other types of bias, tall people could be advantaged simply because of their height. Scholars call it height discrimination.
However, it does depend on what we call tall. Based on military records, a typical male was 67 inches during the mid-1800s, close to 70 inches in 1955, and since then, stayed there. In 1939, an average forward on the University of Wisconsin’s basketball team was 6’1″. In 1999, he was 7 inches taller.
Looking at leadership, performance and salary, researchers have found that taller people achieve more career success. Today an average six-footer will earn close to $165,000 more than someone who is 5’5″ during a 30 year period. That six-footer is also more likely to get a promotion, and yes, become a U.S. president.
But we still are not sure why. Some have hypothesized that the esteem a taller individual develops as a teen affects future success. Others, connecting height and health, suggest taller people deserve the status because they have more cognitive abilIty. And a third group thought that we might even have an evolution related bias that equates physical prowess with power.
Whatever the cause, we know that being tall is just one more ingredient in a success formula.
Our Bottom Line: Human Capital
Just like a factory owner increases physical capital with more equipment, we build our human capital by accumulating education, informal knowhow, and the psychological equipment that lets us optimize our potential. As a constraint or a springboard, height can affect our human capital…
and help us become a U.S. president.