Short Men And Overweight Women Make Less Money

A new study shows the link between income and height and weight

Mar 12, 2016 at 1:11 PM ET

While it’s nice to think that we live in a merit-based society where looks don’t matter in the workplace and achievement is solely based on intelligence and willpower, science has offered idealists a stark reality check. A new study published in BMJ has found that being shorter is associated with lower income for men, while heavier women can expect to earn decidedly less than their svelter colleagues.

British researchers studied 119,669 men and women who had or didn’t have various genetic variants that influence height and body mass index (BMI) using a statistical technique called Mendelian randomization, which helps explain the causal relationship of some human traits. They examined five measures of socioeconomic status: duration of full time education, education degree level, job class, annual household income and Townshend deprivation index, which measures material deprivation within a certain population.

Investigators found that, for men in particular, shorter height as estimated by genetics usually leads to a lower education level, a lower job status and less income. For women, higher BMI means lower income and more deprivation.

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“The implications are that if you could take the same woman, the same intellect, same CV, same background, but send her through life a stone heavier, she would be about £1,500 [$2,122] per year worse off,” said senior author Timothy Frayling, a professor of human genetics at the University of Exeter, in a video accompanying the study. “The implications of this data also mean that if you could take the same man—say a 5’10’’ man but make him 5’7’’—and send him through life, he would be about £1,500 worse off per year. “

The study said that while many factors may, for instance, link taller height to elevated socioeconomic status, researchers didn’t consider such things. Researchers said, however, that “complex interactions” between stigma, self-esteem, increased intelligence and positive discrimination may play a role.

“These data support evidence that height and BMI play an important partial role in determining several aspects of a person’s socioeconomic status, especially women’s BMI for income and deprivation and men’s height for education, income and job class,” they wrote in the study. “These findings have important social and health implications, supporting evidence that overweight people, especially women, are at a disadvantage and that taller people, especially men, are at an advantage.”