Posts Tagged ‘USA Today’

What Happened to America’s Height Advantage?

December 11, 2008

What happened to America’s height advantage?
Posted 7/15/2007 12:31 PM

By Matt Crenson, Associated Press
NEW YORK — America used to be the tallest country in the world.

From the days of the founding fathers right on through the industrial revolution and two world wars, Americans literally towered over other nations. In a land of boundless open spaces and limitless natural abundance, the young nation transformed its increasing wealth into human growth.

But just as it has in so many other arenas, America’s predominance in height has faded. Americans reached a height plateau after World War II, gradually falling behind the rest of the world as it continued growing taller.

By the time the baby boomers reached adulthood in the 1960s, most northern and western European countries had caught up with and surpassed the United States. Young adults in Japan and other prosperous Asian countries now stand nearly as tall as Americans do.

Even residents of the formerly communist East Germany are taller than Americans today. In Holland, the tallest country in the world, the typical man now measures 6 feet, a good two inches more than his average American counterpart.

Compare that to 1850, when the situation was reversed. Not just the Dutch but all the nations of western Europe stood 2½ inches shorter than their American brethren.

Does it really matter? Does being taller give the Dutch any advantage over say, the Chinese (men 5 feet, 4.9 inches; women 5 feet, 0.8 inches) or the Brazilians (men 5 feet, 6.5 inches; women 5 feet, 3 inches)?

Many economists would argue that it does matter, because height is correlated with numerous measures of a population’s well-being. Tall people are healthier, wealthier and live longer than short people. Some researchers have even suggested that tall people are more intelligent.

It’s not that being tall actually makes you smarter, richer or healthier. It’s that the same things that make you tall — a nutritious diet, good prenatal care and a healthy childhood — also benefit you in those other ways.

That makes height a good indicator for economists who are interested in measuring how well a nation provides for its citizens during their prime growing years. With one simple, easily collected statistic, economists can essentially measure how well a society prepares its children for life.

“This is the part of the society that usually eludes economists, because economists are usually thinking about income. And this is the part of the society that doesn’t earn an income,” said John Komlos, an economic historian at the University of Munich who was born in Hungary, grew up in Chicago, and has spent the last quarter century compiling data on the heights of nations.

Height tells you about a segment of the population that is invisible to traditional economic statistics. Children don’t have jobs or own houses. They don’t buy durable goods, or invest in the stock market. But obviously, investments in their well-being are critical to a nation’s economic future.

For several years now, Komlos and other researchers have been trying to figure out exactly why the United States fell behind. How could the wealthiest country in the world, during the most robust economic expansion in its history, simply stop growing?

“It’s absolutely fascinating,” said Eileen Crimmins, a demographer at the University of Southern California. “Maybe we’ve reached the point where we’re going to go backwards in height.”

Like many human traits, an individual’s height is determined by a mix of genes and environment. Some experts put the contribution of genes at 40%, some at 70%, some even higher. But they all agree that aside from African pygmies and a few similar exceptions, most populations have about the same genetic potential for height.

That leaves environment to determine the differences in height between populations around the world, specifically the environment children experience from the moment of conception through adolescence. Any deficiency along the way, from poor prenatal care to early childhood disease or malnutrition, can prevent a person from reaching his or her full genetic height potential.

“We know environment can affect heights by three, four, five inches,” said Richard H. Steckel, an Ohio State University economist who has also done research on height trends in the United States during the 19th century.

The earliest stages of life are the most important to the human growth machine; at age 2 there is already about a 70% correlation between a child’s height and his or her eventual adult stature.

All of this means a population’s average height is a very sensitive indicator of its most vulnerable members’ welfare.

Not surprisingly, rich countries tend to be taller simply because they have more resources to spend on feeding and caring for their children. But wealth doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a society will give its children what they need to thrive.

In the Czech Republic, per capita income is barely half of what it is in the United States. Even so, Czechs are taller than Americans. So are Belgians, who collect 84% as much income as Americans.

And those height differences translate into real benefits. A number of studies have shown that disease and malnutrition early in life — the same things that limit a person’s height — increase a person’s chances of developing heart disease and other life-shortening conditions later on. Though tall people are more likely to get cancer, they suffer less mortality overall than short people.

International statistics bear it out. Life expectancy in the Netherlands is 79.11 years; in Sweden it’s 80.63. America’s life expectancy of 78.00 years puts it in somewhat shorter company, just above Cyprus and a few notches below Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“Obviously America is not doing badly. It’s not at the level of developing nations,” Komlos said. “But it’s also not doing as well as it could.”

His latest research paper, published in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly, suggests the blame may lie with America’s poor diet and its expensive, inequitable health care system.

“American children might consume more meals prepared outside of the home, more fast food rich in fat, high in energy density and low in essential micronutrients,” wrote Komlos and co-author Benjamin E. Lauderdale of Princeton University. “Furthermore, the European welfare states provide a more comprehensive social safety net including universal health care coverage.”

In the United States, by comparison, an estimated 9 million children have no health insurance.

Komlos’ most recent data indicate a small uptick in the heights of white Americans born between 1975 and 1983, a suggestion that the gap may finally be closing. But there has been no similar increase among blacks, a suggestion that inequality may indeed play a significant role in the height gap.

In another recent paper, Komlos and Lauderdale also found height inequality between American urbanites and residents of suburbs and rural areas. In Kansas, for example, white males are about as tall as their European peers; it’s big cities like New York, where men are about 1.75 inches shorter than that, that drag America’s average down.

Now Komlos has started comparing the heights of children to determine at what age Americans begin falling behind their peers across the Atlantic. Not surprisingly, he sees a difference from birth, an observation that suggests prenatal care may be significant contributor factor to the height gap.

But it is unlikely that Komlos will ever find one simple factor to explain why Americans have fallen behind other rich countries in height. In all likelihood it is caused by a combination of things — a little bit health care, some diet, a sprinkling of economic inequality.

“In some ways it gets to the fundamentals of the American society, namely what is the ideology of the American society and what are the shortcomings of that ideology,” Komlos said. “I would argue that to take good care of its children is not part of that ideology.”

Whether that’s true is debatable; the height gap doesn’t measure how much Americans love their children. But at a minimum it does indicate — in raw feet and inches — whether the nation is giving its youngsters what they need to reach their full biological potential, or selling them short.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Does height equal power?

November 18, 2008

According to Del Jones of USA Today some CEO’s say yes it does.

Le Gourmet Gift Basket CEO Cynthia McKay wears 3-inch heels even though she’s 5-foot-9 in bare feet.

Why? For the same reason that 6-foot-3 Don Peebles, CEO of The Peebles Corporation, the nation’s largest African-American-owned real estate development company, puts his hand on the shoulder of shorter adversaries and crowds into their personal space when negotiating a key deal.

TELL US: What acts of power and dominance have you seen in your workplace?

It’s to gain a “subliminal sense of power,” Peebles says.

People of status often use height, or an inflated appearance of height, to look more powerful, says Lara Tiedens, an organizational behavior professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, who has written extensively about how executives acquire status. They look directly at others, use an open stance and vigorous gestures, speak loudly in a deep voice, interrupt at will, and lean in close or otherwise reduce the space of others and expand their own. What does all that audacity get them? Others see them as smarter, more competent and deserving of all their promotions, Tiedens says.

Tiedens says her findings and recommendations to become taller, louder and borderline rude have been called evil, but says she’s only the messenger calling attention to the age-old pecking order of humans, which is also common throughout the animal kingdom, from the arcing tail of the scorpion to the chest-beating chimp.

“It’s an evolution from the days of primates,” says Yaron Adler, CEO of IncrediMail, an Israeli company where executive meetings often turn into shouting matches that remind Adler of Britain’s Parliament.

Tiedens says women are often irritated by chest-beating behavior but should learn from it. So should minorities, the young, the shy and others who feel their ideas get short-changed on the merits, she says, because meeting rooms are dominated by white, male, chest-beating power brokers.

Peebles, for one, says he has a “radio” voice and employs it to command attention. McKay makes sure the ring tone on her phone is sophisticated, never “frilly.” She schedules meetings on her turf, where her office walls are covered in diplomas and accolades, and she drops into conversations that she is a lawyer as well as a CEO before pursuing important negotiations.

Many white, male CEOs say they are not pleased to be lumped together with rutting elk and other beasts gone wild. In interviews, they say that chest beating may have been a staple of corporate leadership in the past but that executives can no longer get away with aping Tarzan.

The ‘domination thing’

Retired CEOs Renny DiPentima of SRA International, James Copeland of Deloitte & Touche and Bill George of Medtronic, call such studies borderline drivel and say the last thing a busy CEO has time for is to plot to gain an upper hand.

“Today’s workers, vendors and customers are simply far too smart to fall for some kind of domination thing,” says Vern Raburn, CEO of jetmaker Eclipse Aviation.

Raburn worked under Bill Gates during Microsoft’s early days and says the world’s second-richest man is of slight build and incapable of resorting to chest beating, although Microsoft executives did play intellectual games of “who’s smartest, who can think fastest.”

Some successful women also say chest beating is rare and a waste of time. “Sounds like something a professor or consultant would think of,” says Andrea McGinty, founder of online dating site It’s Just Lunch and online retailer Baby Dagny.

Height, voice quality, stance … (are) not going to cut it without the substance,” says Linda Sawyer, CEO of Deutsch advertising agency. “Survival of the fittest has become survival of the brightest.”

But Karyl Innis, CEO of executive coaching firm The Innis Company, says corporate chest beating is widespread. She says CEOs who don’t spot it are like “fish who don’t see the water.”

“Is this a lot of bunk? Absolutely not,” says Jill Blashack Strahan, founder and CEO of Tastefully Simple, which sells food at in-house parties. “Arrogance and superficiality is nauseatingly prevalent. Chest beating is alive and well. It’s a jungle out there.”

If it’s a jungle, women are at a disadvantage because they have higher voices and usually stand and sit in a more constricted manner, Innis says. In the jungle, being considerate is a weakness. When someone walks into a crowded meeting room, even the most senior women have a tendency to make room at the table. That’s a mistake, she says: Those of power take up more than their fair share of space. Don’t relinquish it. Spread out, arms wide on the table.

Tiedens says studies of gender and influence indicate that women invite backlash when they try to be verbally dominant. But there seems to be greater acceptance when displays of female dominance are non-verbal. She says that wearing heels makes sense, although she is unaware of any high-heel research outside the realm of podiatry.

Innis, 5-foot-4½, remembers when she was director of staffing and recruiting at Motorola several years ago. Staffer Glenn Gienko was 6-foot-4. After one long day, Gienko did a double take when Innis took off her heels to relax. “He lifted out his arm, and the top of my head didn’t reach his palm. He said he had no idea I was so short. He thought I was bigger because I was his boss. I took up more space in his life. I’m very conscious about being bigger,” Innis says. “Shoulders square and back, head up.”

Maigread Eichten, the 5-foot-4 CEO of beverage company New Sun Nutrition, says she remembers a confrontation with a 6-foot, 200-pound-plus senior executive.

“He spoke loudly and in quite colorful language. I couldn’t get a word in between his four-letter words. Imagine his surprise when this small blonde marched up, stared him down, commanded his attention, spoke clearly and loudly and ended with a smile. He was sold and charmed,” Eichten says.

Even so, Eichten isn’t convinced that heels and other efforts of dominance are effective. She jokes that she guards her personal space only to protect her salad at lunch, and the only time others comment on her size is when she introduces them to her 14-year-old son.

Tiedens’ research has centered on women, and she says she was less qualified to say if the same tactics of dominance work for minority executives. Alfred Edmond, the 5-foot-7 editor-in-chief of Black Enterprise magazine, says they do work and advises young minorities not to disappear at meetings. His own promotions started coming after he took up body building as a hobby and went from 130 pounds to 175. He says he uses his baritone voice when he wants his way. Those with a deep voice are perceived to be larger, not only on the phone, but in person, Edmond says.

Height literally pays off

Several studies indicate that taller men are more likely to be successful and that the advantage begins early. A 2005 study in Finland found that baby boys who were taller than average by their first birthday earned more 50 years later. The last U.S. president who was shorter than the average man was 5-foot-7 William McKinley 106 years ago.

Corporate CEOs also tend to be taller, and those who aren’t taller have a way of appearing so. Retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch, at 5-foot-7, makes searing eye contact and will pull his chair around to sit close in one-on-one conversations. Harold Burson, chairman and architect of the largest public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, says he is 5-foot-6, “probably a little less now that I’m 86.” He says his theory is that short CEOs rise from within the company. Executive search firms tend to produce the 6-foot outsiders, he says.

There may be some evolution in the jungle. Some CEOs say they recognize the importance of chest beating but have learned to use it in moderation. When Adler oversees contentious meetings, he tries to remain calm and centered. Likewise, Edmond says he resorts to dominant behavior “thoughtfully and sparingly, like corporal punishment in child rearing.”

Peebles says he used to assume that the loudest, most aggressive male at the meeting was “the guy in charge,” until he learned that’s not usually the case. “If you have authority, you ought to use it less,” he says.

Tiedens says it makes sense that wise CEOs are evolving to turn chest beating over to wannabe lieutenants, because research indicates that leaders who are dominant wind up with submissive employees, while those who step back empower those around them.

But dominant personalities, at least among those on the path to power, will long be with us, Tiedens says, even though chest beaters are perceived as less nice, likable and warm. Those gunning for leadership positions sacrifice popularity, Tiedens says. Edmond has advised his children to be both sure and right, but that it’s most important to be sure.

“If you are absolutely correct, but seem unsure, you’ll hardly be able to influence anyone, much less dominate them,” Edmond says. At least once a week, he says, his wife calls him a stubborn dictator.

Edmond and other executives interviewed said they recognized that chest beating can be taken to an extreme and they worried that not only is there a fine line between confidence and dominance, there’s also a fine line between dominance and schoolyard bully.

Leaders by definition are confident, and many can successfully negotiate dominance. But some cross over to become like hotel titan Leona Helmsley, nicknamed the queen of mean. Eleven states are in various stages of passing legislation that would give the victims of workplace bullying the right to sue for damages, according to The National Law Journal.

But if bullying is bad for business, the opposite could be, too. “If someone can’t look me in the eye when they make a statement, or are passive, I downplay their credibility,” says Steve Hafner, CEO of travel website Kayak.com.

Says Strahan: “When we avert our eyes, or cower, or speak in meek, whispery tones, we don’t instill feelings of trust and safety.”

McKay is never accused of being meek or in a cower. She wears heels even though she finds it ridiculous that 3 inches could add to anyone’s credibility.

“It is a lot of bunk,” she says. “But it works.”