Do Short People Live Longer? 4 Things Being Petite Predicts About Your Life
As someone whose vertical growth topped out in the fifth grade, I can attest that being short in a tall person's world is sometimes a struggle. At 5'2", when I venture out into the world, I often feel like I am a tiny traveler adrift in a tall universe where all jeans are way too long and all commutes are spent with my face shoved into a taller person's armpit. In the bonafide Small Person Home that I share with my 5'3" boyfriend, all of our top kitchen shelves remain empty.
But while being forced to stand in the front row of all group pictures is kind of annoying, I wouldn't necessarily describe life as a short person as unpleasant. In fact, I find there are a lot of advantages to being on the wee side (besides potentially living longer): I'm never worried about having adequate leg room, I rarely bump my head on things, and my tiny hands can always extract my house keys from whatever weird sidewalk crack or drainage grating I happen to drop them into.
But according to social science, the pluses and minuses of being short don't all revolve around the stress of trying to make sure a tall person doesn't sit in front of you at the movies. As it turns out, our height impacts our finances, our number of offspring, and even our life expectancy. So should we be celebrating our tiny statures? Or investing in stilts and some long pants? Read on and find out, my petite friend.
1. You'll Likely Live Longer
Short people develop cancer at lower rates than the tall, and a 2003 study published in the journal Life Sciences found that shorter people, on average, avoid many chronic diseases and have longer lives. Why? Our compact bodies just seem to function more efficiently: we have fewer cells, and thus fewer cells that can develop cancer; our lungs tend to work better than those of tall folks. And though some studies have reported that short people are more likely to develop heart disease, none of them have effectively established a cause-and-effect relationship.
The Life Sciences study's authors make a good point about why this information is very relevant right now: as genetic engineering advances, parents will probably soon have the option of engineering for taller offspring (plenty of parents already spring for growth hormone treatments for children who don't have any actual medical issues, but seem primed to grow up short). We consider being taller such a universal good that for many parents, giving their kids a height advantage may feel like a no-brainer.
But despite the cash bonuses, there has been little proof that short people have a lower quality of life than the tall, even though we have lived through the indignity of climbing the shelves at the supermarket to reach the Special K. And with this evidence that being short might actually lead to a longer life overall, we should rethink the way that society views being short as an all-around misfortune. After all, don't the pros of living a longer life outweigh the cons of having to use a step stool to change a lightbulb?
2. You'll Probably Make Less Money
Numerous studies have shown that tall people make more money than short folks — sometimes as much as $789 extra per year for every inch they have on their shorter coworkers.
Are these stats skewed because so many tall people are professional basketball players? Alas, no: social scientists attribute the difference to the fact that tall people are more likely to be self-confident and consider themselves leaders than short people, because our society correlates height with leadership qualities (we haven't had a short president who fell below the average American male height of 5'9" since William McKinley in 1897). But lest we let social scientists put the weight of this pay gap on our tiny shoulders, it turns out that bosses are more likely to view tall people as having leadership qualities — and thus, they're more likely to pay them more.
3. You May Be More Paranoid
Well, uh, how could we not be? People are deliberately underpaying us, just because we sometimes shop in the children's section! But a 2014 study conducted at Oxford University claimed that our paranoia went beyond even that: the study had subjects take a virtual reality trip on the subway twice — once at an average height, and once at a lower height. Subjects reported that on the second trip, they felt more vulnerable and more wary of the actions of strangers.
Though many people tried to link this study's findings to low self-esteem and the ever-irrelevant Napoleon Complex, as a person who is actually short, I can attest that there are good reasons to be extra-aware of your surroundings when you're small. People may consider you an easier target for crime because you look younger, seem more vulnerable, and appear less able to fight back (especially if you're a short woman). So I think we should spin this into a positive: short people are just more aware of their surroundings while you tall folks are tuning out, messing around with your fancy phone that you bought with all your extra pay.
4. You're More Likely To Have More Kids
This is only a bonus if you're looking to reproduce, of course, but if you are, the odds are in your favor, shorty: short women have more children on average than tall women, thus putting all those cracks we've heard about our lack of adequate birthing hips to rest. A 2002 study of women in the U.K. found that women whose height fell slightly below 5'4" were more likely to have children by the age of 42 than their tall peers; and a 2009 study at Yale University found that shorter women had more children overall, too. Researchers found that there was no scientific explanation for this — short women aren't any more fertile than tall women — so if you're a short woman who's interested in popping out some literal shorties, just know that for whatever reason, the universe is on your side.
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