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23 May 2002
Short Teenage Boys Earn Less
by George Atkinson

"Not fitting in" has negative, long-term, economic consequences for short, teenage boys. Decades later, they are far more likely to earn less money than their taller peers.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that a boy's height at age 16 is a significant determinant of his salary as an adult.

Penn economics professors Nicola Persico and Andrew Postlewaite and Penn graduate student Dan Silverman are co-authors of the report, "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height."

They studied data from a survey of more than 2,000 men in the U.S. workforce, controlling for race, gender and socio-economic status by limiting the study to white, non-Hispanic males. Part-time workers were excluded from the study.

The workers ranged in height from 5 feet tall to 6 feet 8 inches tall. Their wages were measured during a seven-year period when they were 31 to 38 years old. The cumulative effect of the differences in their heights as teenagers was clear.

"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 labor market," Persico said. "We found that two adults of the same age and height, who were different heights at age 16, were treated differently in the labor market. The taller teen earned more," Persico said.

In any given field, the worker who was taller as a teen earned a "wage premium" as much as 15 percent more than the worker who was short as a teenager.

The researchers suggested 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," Postlewaite said. "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."

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