Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that a boy's height at age 16 is a significant determinant of his salary as an adult, regardless of how tall he may eventually become.
The workers who took part in the study ranged in height from 5ft 6in to 5ft 8in. Their wages were measured during a seven-year period when they were aged 31 to 38 years old. A clear correlation between their salaries and their heights as teenagers was found.
"Height varies over time, so that a relatively tall 16-year-old may turn out to be a relatively short adult and vice versa. However, adult height is irrelevant in the labour market," says Nicola Persico co-author of the report The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height.
"We found that two adults of the same age and height, who were different heights at age 16, were treated differently in the labour market. The taller teen earned more."
In any given field, the worker who was taller as a teenager earned a "wage premium" - as much as 15% more than the worker who was short as a teenager.
The researchers suggest that the social and cultural stigma of being short during adolescence contributed to the disparity in wages across heights.
"It might be more difficult for short children to develop interpersonal skills or to develop high self-esteem," says researcher Andrew Postlewaite. "They may be teased, picked last to play on a team in gym class or be excluded from groups that would help them build a positive self-image."
This was first published in May 2002