Heightism: Why Tall Men Win & Short Men Lose

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There’s no point in beating around the bush.

Short men, or as they’re lovingly referred to in certain online communities, manlets, know that they’re short, and they know the struggle that comes with that.

In fact, they know it more than anybody else does. If you’re a tall man (or a woman), and trying to empathize by reading this, here’s something to keep in mind right from the start:

There’s a good chance that you treat short men differently, whether or not you realize it. In fact, there’s a really good chance you treat them worse.

This is especially true if you’re a woman.

Men of above average height might think they know what it’s like, but they can’t really know the pains of being short without experiencing it. The world undeniably treats you differently, arguably like a second-class citizen, when you’re a truly short man.

So let’s not pretend taller guys don’t have a genetic head start when it comes to dating, their careers, and many other aspects of life that they typically take for granted.

This post will cover the scientifically proven ways short men are disadvantaged by going over not just anecdotal evidence that you deep down know to be true but also various studies with concrete examples.

We’ll also go over what you can do about it and why it’s not the end-all, be-all for life success by showing you examples of men who have overcome the genetic dice roll.

Why Taller Is Perceived As Better

Yes, millions of “short” guys around the world are absolutely killing it at life. Don’t let the statistics discourage you from striving to be your best. Having said that, once you understand the biases people have against men of shorter stature, and learn not to take it personally, you’ll have more control over your destiny.

Survival Of the Tallest

There was a time in human history where being short and small didn’t only mean you wouldn’t have the same opportunities, it literally meant it was harder to survive. In an era where the biggest stress in life was simply not being killed, bigger and stronger men were more desirable for very practical reasons. These days, it’s less of a necessity, but that code still lingers in our DNA.

A taller height suggests better physical nutrition growing up as a kid. We know this because the average height for both men and women has been increasing the last two hundreds years with rising standards of living and more people able to meet their nutritional needs.

In a 1939 study analyzing Japanese descendants born in Hawaii and Japanese immigrants to the islands, researcher Harry L. Shapiro found a significant difference in heights between the population concluding that…

“…environmental factors, particularly diet and healthcare, play a significant role in determining height and other physical characteristics.” (source)

Perhaps another reason for the evolutionary preference for taller men is that they are perceived as better leaders. When it comes to US presidential elections, since 1900, 21 of the past 30 election winners were taller or at least as tall as their opponent (source).

When psychologists polled 467 students in universities across the US to describe the “ideal national leader” and the “typical citizen”, 64% of them made the leader taller – about 12% taller to be exact compared to the average. When asked about their own perceived leadership ability, taller men saw themselves as better suited for leadership than shorter men – so there is definitely a self-confidence thing going on – but this relationship did NOT hold true for women (height had no impact on their own perceived ability) (source).

Lead researcher and psychologist of that study, Dr. Gregg Murray told The Guardian

“Our ancestors lived in groups that were constantly engaged in conflicts that were resolved through physical violence… If you are in a group and the enemy hordes are coming over the hill, what you want them to see is the big person out front so they know they face a tough battle.”

It all starts with opportunity. From athletic endeavors like making the high school basketball team, to career achievements such as reaching the highest elected office in the United States of America, here are some more ways that height has been shown to give men a big advantage.


This is the one area where shorter guys probably notice bias the most.

In some of these other examples, you might not really feel it in your day to day life. You won’t necessarily know that you got passed up for a promotion because you “just didn’t have that intangible leadership quality they were looking for”, even if that’s just subconscious code for “not tall enough”.

But when it comes to dating? It’s right there. Women aren’t even shy about it. They’ll put it right in their Tinder profiles: “No short guys.

tindr dating profile height preferences for women

We’ve all seen it, and we all kind of already know that shorter guys have fewer options in the dating world, but are there studies that can actually back that up?

Yep. Very short men, on average, have fewer sexual partners compared to taller men.

A study of over 60,000 heterosexual Americans found that after a certain height, there isn’t a huge difference in the amount of sexual partners for men, but before that height threshold, there’s less action to go around. Men in the group that were over 5′4″ had a median of 7 sexual partners, whereas men under that threshold had a median of 5 (PDF link source).

Admittedly, these questions came in the form of an anonymous survey so we have no way of knowing if any of the people responding were inflating their numbers or not (as is often the case).

But these studies have been consistently replicated with results that point to the same conclusion.

In a separate study, researchers found that women were most satisfied in relationships when their partner was about 8 inches (21 cm) taller than them (source).

Women want to feel safe and protected in their relationships, yes even strong and independent women according to HuffPo. Of course, most of us live in a civilized society, so it’s not often you’ll have to fend off attackers or wolves, but the security of standing next to someone physically bigger and more imposing than you seems to be deeply ingrained.

Like it or not, height is associated with masculinity. Height and size in general are sexually dimorphic traits. Even though some women are bigger and taller than some men, generally speaking, big = manly, powerful, and dominant. On the other side of the coin, small is seen as a more feminine trait.

The difference between a man 6 feet tall or higher and 5 foot 11 in the eyes of women.

In a 2005 study, women were found to prefer taller men when they were in the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle and choosing for short-term relationships, despite the guy being less likely to stick around and invest resources in children (source).

Most people will end up with someone similar in size according to the idea of assortative mating (ie. most tall men will end up with tall women and vice versa). Your dating pool, as a short man, is naturally smaller since there will be less women who are shorter than you.

Yes, some women won’t discriminate for height at all and wouldn’t even mind dating someone shorter than them. About 1.7% of women prefer shorter men according to one study which analyzed 925 personal ads seeking heterosexual relationships (source).


On the topic of careers, let’s start at the top. CEO’s are notoriously tall. There’s something about the alpha image of a guy in an expensive suit, who is large and powerful, that automatically commands a certain amount of respect from those around him in the corporate world.

The average Fortune 500 CEO, according to Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Blink, stands 6 feet tall which is 3 inches taller than the average American male at 5’9”.

But here are even more surprising (or perhaps unsurprising) statistics:

  • 90% are of above average height.
  • 58% are over 6’0” tall compared to 14.5% of the US adult male population
  • 30% are 6’2” or taller compared to only 3.9% of the US adult male population.

This means the average CEO is disproportionately taller than your average joe.

The $$$ advantage doesn’t just apply to CEO’s though.

A team of researchers led by Prof. Timothy Frayling at the University of Exeter studying the role genes which influence height play in determining the socioeconomic status of men confirmed that…

“… shorter height, as estimated by genetics, leads to lower levels of education, lower job status, and less income, particularly in men…” (source)

They theorized that this was the result of a “complex interaction” between a variety of factors including “self-esteem, stigma, positive discrimination, and increased intelligence”.

Another study which tested for subjective ratings of performance and objective outcomes found that…

“…height seems to predict how observers perceive and evaluate others more than it predicts actual performance.”

This isn’t necessarily bad news if you’re short. It just means that you will have to do a better job of managing other people’s perceptions. You aren’t genetically less capable per say (PDF link source).

The advantage height seems to bring can be summarized in the following sequence:

Taller Height


More Social & Self-Esteem


Better Performance


More Successful Career

The same study linked above goes on to say that height was…

“…significantly and positively related to earnings in all four of our earnings studies, controlling for sex, age, and weight.”

In fact, over a 30 year career they found that an individual who was 6 feet tall would earn almost $166,000 more than someone who was seven inches shorter. For salaried positions, this means every inch is worth $789 more per year on average.

From entry level positions, to climbing up the corporate ladder, success seems to select for height. Whether it’s an increased confidence at job interviews, or the Halo Effect giving an unearned perception of competence, there’s an unfair disadvantage against shorter people.

While superficial traits like height don’t 100% guarantee success or failure in the corporate world, they certainly help stack things in favor of tall men, helping them reach the top rungs of the company ladder where you’re more likely to see them in charge.


In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a US based non-profit research firm, which surveyed nearly half a million men to on their happiness and height, it was revealed that taller men consider themselves to be happier than shorter men. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise considering the research we covered so far. They used a scale that goes from 0 to 10, represented by the rungs on a ladder, and here are the results:

“Men who are above average height (5 feet 10 in., 177.8 cm) report that they are a little more than one-seventh of a step on the ladder above men who are below average height, average ladder score of 6.55 versus 6.41.” (source)

To put that in perspective, every inch of height gave men the equivalent happiness of increasing their income by 4.4% which is quite substantial if you think about it.

Men who were of above average height self-reported higher levels of happiness and less negative emotions like sadness or pain. The men who called their lives the “worst possible” were more likely to be about an inch shorter than the average male.

What Is The Perfect Height For Men?

If you ask the average woman what the perfect height for her ideal partner is, you might get answers like “taller than her”, or “taller than her in heels” or something about that magical 6 foot cutoff.

But the “perfect height” for a man is a little more complicated than that, “perfect” being defined here as the height which gives him the best possibility of achieving success in all aspects of life.

It’s not just a matter of “taller is better”. There’s a cut-off point with one study noting…

“…there appears to be a “ceiling effect”… the height advantage for a male seems to diminish when he is taller than six feet.” (source)

You have to take two more things into account…

The taller you are, the harder it is to fill out your frame. Building muscle is notoriously easier for shorter guys. A 6’8” LeBron James fills out his frame but for the ordinary non-athlete, they’re more likely to be lanky at that height. Tall and lanky can be attractive to some women but unattractive to others because your underdeveloped frame will make you look weak which will not be attractive to women who prefer muscular men.

The ideal height also depends on location. If you’re from a Scandinavian, Balkan, or Anglosphere country, the average height of the men around you will be taller than a Latin American or Far East Asian country. This means if you’re 5’7”, you could be considered short in one place, average in another, and tall in a third.

What You Can Do

If you feel like your life is being adversely impacted by your height, it’s not completely hopeless.

There are changes you can make which can help salvage a couple extra inches AND minimize the impact it has on your life.

So beyond the cliché “love yourself” answers, here are those changes:

Improve Your Posture

If you’re walking around slouched over, looking insecure and mopey, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. There are men who would move mountains to add an inch or two to a certain body part, but all you have to do to add an inch or two to your height is to stand up straight with good posture. Sweet deal, hey?

Learn how to fix lumbar lordosis posture issues.

Shoes & Lifts

Pull out the Nike Shox… The classic way to add a little height is by wearing lifts in your shoes, or just wearing specially designed shoes. If you choose the right ones, and don’t go too overboard, it’s really hard to tell that you’re wearing them, to the untrained eye.

Guys have been wearing lifts for decades, and you’ll usually be wearing shoes in most professional settings, so it can make a difference. We’ve already seen how extra height can have an incremental benefit in how someone is perceived at work, so it stands to reason that even a small boost can help.

NOT RECOMMENDED: Leg Lengthening Surgery

There are more drastic measures that you can take, but in the big picture they’re just not worth the cost, the risk, and they aren’t some magical solution to all of life’s problems. Could you imagine struggling, thinking it’s entirely due to your height, saving up for years to afford this procedure, gaining a bit of height, but realizing you still feel the same way you did before? There’s no magic beans here.

RECOMMENDED: Improve Yourself in Other Ways

Yes, you are “overcompensating”. So what? Have you…

  • Improved your skin as much as you can?
  • Developed a physically fit body?
  • Whitened and fixed your teeth?
  • Gotten the most optimal haircut for your face shape?
  • Gotten your fashion sense in order?

At the end of the day, despite the numerous ways that being short can hold you back in life, you’ve still got to ask yourself if that’s REALLY the cause of all of your problems, or if you’re using your height as a scapegoat. It’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming everyone that you’re short and developing a complex, but that isn’t very helpful.

If you don’t have the job you want, or you’re single and miserable, or you’re insecure and lack motivation, and you blame that on your height, it removes any level of personal responsibility which makes it impossible for you to improve in these areas.

Short Men Success Stories

Height can open up the doors to opportunities, but it’s far from being a guarantee of success. Being short may put you at a disadvantage in some areas, but it’s absolutely not a guarantee that you won’t be able to overcome it.

Hollywood Actors: There are plenty of actors that barely pass the “manlet” cutoff. Al Pacino is about 5′5″, and Tom Cruise is 5′7″. You might think this is good news for short people, but then you’ll remember that the directors and the movie studios are doing everything they can to make it seem like these guys are taller, so it’s hard to chalk that up as a huge win.

Tech Billionaires: Mr. Facebook himself made it into the meme hall of fame during his congressional testimony, when photographers showed that he was sitting on a booster seat. Mark Zuckerberg is 5′7″, which is below the archetypal height of a CEO, not to mention one of the most successful ones in the world. Bill Gates is only an inch taller, but it’s important to keep in mind that both of these guys founded their own empires, they weren’t hired and brought in as CEO from outside, so they didn’t face the same prejudices as directly as others may.

Politicians: We mentioned US presidents before, but there are still examples of shorter guys who have managed to take control of nations. Look at that, we almost made it through an entire article about short men without mentioning Napoleon. Nicolas Sarkozy is a more modern example, having served as President of France and coming in at a hair over 5’4” while the former president of Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad is only 5’2”.

Final Thoughts on Height Discrimination

Men's height chart tweet.

Heightism is a prevalent form of discrimination in our society that doesn’t get nearly the same respect as other equally harmful forms.

Short people aren’t coming together in the same way that other groups do, and there’s a lot less awareness about heightism than there could be.

It’s great to want the world to get better and to be more aware of their biases and prejudices against short people, but you’re going to be waiting around for a long time if you’re waiting for the world to change. At a certain point, you’ve got to accept the reality we’re living in, and learn to navigate it accordingly.


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