Behavior: Heightism - TIME


No matter what his race, creed or financial status, the American male under 5 ft. 8 in.—the height of the average American man—is a victim of discrimination. That is the conclusion of a Cleveland sociologist who has begun a personal crusade against a seldom mentioned form of prejudice that, like racism and sexism, is well established in U.S. society: heightism.

So pervasive is the American bias against the short man, Saul Feldman told a recent meeting of the American Sociological Association, that no one notices it—no one, that is, except the short man himself. To Sociologist Feldman of Case Western Reserve University, that point is well illustrated by the language. Instead of the neutral "What is your height?", the question is always the invidious "How tall are you?" Dishonest cashiers shortchange customers, and people who lack foresight are shortsighted.

In romantic matters, too, the little man is cut down to size. A woman's idealized lover is never short, dark and handsome, and both sexes seem to feel that the male should be taller than the female. The tall man thus has all of womankind to choose from; the short man must make do with the little woman. In the movies, either the romantic hero is tall or the heroine is photographed standing in a trench. Violins never throbbed for Mickey Rooney; false eyelashes never fluttered at Edward G. Robinson.

Little Napoleons. In most sports, the short man is given short shrift. Business, it seems, is interested in the short man mostly as a customer for elevator shoes. A survey of recent University of Pittsburgh graduates, for example, shows that those 6 ft. 2 in. and over received average starting salaries 12.4% higher than those under 6 ft. In another study, 140 corporate recruiters were asked to make a hypothetical choice between two equally qualified applicants, one 6 ft. 1 in., the other 5 ft. 5 in. Nearly three-quarters hired the tall man; only 1% chose the short one. (About one-quarter had no preference.)

Yet when he succeeds—despite the tall odds against him—the short man is accused of being a "little Napoleon." This might be one reason, perhaps, that Americans usually favor the tall political candidate: Feldman says that since 1900 the taller of the two major presidential candidates has always been sent to the White House,* even when the margin was Richard Nixon's one-inch advantage over Hubert Humphrey's 5 ft. 11 in.

By Feldman's reckoning, however, Nixon is soon due for a long rest in San Clemente. Except for Humphrey, all the current major Democratic contenders are taller than the President. Edmund Muskie is a Lincolnesque 6 ft. 4 in., Edward Kennedy 6 ft. 2 in., and George McGovern 6 ft. 1 in.

What can the short man do? Rebel, of course, like everyone else. He could refuse to look up to the tall man, for example, and force him to stoop into an ungraceful and uncomfortable position for face-to-face conversations. He could sneer at the dangers tall men face, such as low tree branches and the cramped back seats of cabs and tiny cars. He could even nominate a short man for President. Sociologist Feldman, who measures a full 5 ft. 4 in., is no doubt available.

*Actually, the shorter candidate occasionally wins. In the election of 1924, for example, 5-ft. 10-in. Calvin Coolidge defeated John Davis, who was 5 ft. 11 in