A Heads-Up on Wages

Research has long suggested that tall people have an advantage in the workplace, but Dan Silverman, a University of Michigan economist, says it's not that simple: What really matters is how tall you were as a teen, at least for men.

Silverman and his colleagues found that each additional inch of height at age 16 is associated with a 2.7 percent increase in wages among white American men and a 2.6 percent increase among white British men. The advantage does not diminish much when variables such as family resources are taken into account.

So what is it exactly about being tall as a teenage boy that could be boosting paychecks decades later?

Silverman says it's all about popularity. Playing high school sports is associated with nearly a 12 percent increase in adult wages; participation in nonathletic clubs correlates to about a 5 percent increase. Shorter teens might be less likely to participate -- and less likely to hone useful social skills.

The study didn't include women, so the question is still open as to whether the real reason they're paid less is that they're shorter. It also doesn't address why nonwhite men are paid less.

-- Mary Ellen Slayter