We just read an interesting article in The Economist which reported that in China there is a hiring bias in favor of taller people, as well as a “premium” for height reflected in salaries paid.

This article gives us a chance to look anew at a topic which we wrote a lot about — but not that recently.  We are talking about “Lookism,” appearance or beauty bias, and weight and height discrimination: see, for example, our posts of October 16, 2013; July 9, 2012; February 11, 2011).

tall person : salescall in retro style over white Illustration

Taller People Wanted!

Apparently, in China job ads typically set forth height requirements, even for positions for which height is not job related.  For example, “to study tourism and hotel management at Huaqiao University in Fujian province, men topping 170cm are favoured, and women over 158cm.  A post as a female cleaner in Beijing is advertised to women of at least 162cm.”

Indeed, the practice is so ubiquitous, resumes frequently list height and weight.

height : little boy measuring growth

Women’s salaries are, unsurprisingly, most affected: the article cites a study from Huazhong University of Science and Technology which found that “each centimetre above the mean adds 1.5-2.2% to a woman’s salary, particularly among middle- and high-wage earners.”

People Are Taller Today

As in the US, people in China are living longer and growing taller:  the RAND Corporation notes that a 45-year-old man in China is around 5cm taller today than 30 years ago.

Why is this so?  “Richer people tend to eat more and live in cleaner, better homes. Meat consumption per person has increased more than fourfold since 1980. Infant mortality is less than a tenth of what it was 60 years ago. Household size has also helped. Historically people from big families have been shorter (not just in China) because food supplies must stretch further. In China the birth rate fell sharply from the 1970s nationwide.”

Income Inequality

Moreover, “Eighteen-year-olds from the richest cities are on average 7-8cm taller than those from the poorest ones. The height gap between prosperous and impoverished rural areas is similar. Southerners have long been shorter than northerners.”

Perhaps the explanation is that employers seek wealthier, healthier and better educated applicants.  No surprise there.

In any event, Chinese lawyers are attempting to draft a law “against employment discrimination for height and other physical characteristics.”

Good luck.  If the experience of the US is any guide, you will need it!

The US Experience

On March 6, 2013, we reported that the Utah Legislature was considering a bill which would have prohibited employment discriminating based on height and weight.  “Considering” is the operative word — contending that employers sometimes judge people by their height and weight, the bill’s sponsor was not discouraged when the bill was voted down by a margin of 10-4.  He said that “We start it with race, color, religion, age discrimination, those types of things. It’s a starting point. Weight and height is just a starting point that, eventually, we’ll get to that point when we have legislation that’ll address those issues.”

Opponents of the bill claimed that height and weight discrimination would be difficult to define and would be unfair to employers.

On July 9, 2012 we posted a piece entitled: Unattractiveness – The Next Workplace Protected Class? and said that “Obesity bias seems to be the most frequently observed manifestation of this.”  We directed everyone to the seminal work of law professor Deborah Rhode and economist Daniel Hamermesh, and encouraged everyone to read a great paper (with a useful bibliography), by Hofstra Professor Comila Shahani-Denning, entitled Physical Attractiveness Bias in Hiring: What Is Beautiful Is Good.”

Rhode reported that about 60 percent of overweight women and 40 percent of overweight men report experiences of employment discrimination, and that short males often get “the short end of the stick” when it comes to hiring, promotion and earnings.

Moreover, Newsweek Magazine reported that “handsome men earn, on average, 5 percent more than their less-attractive counterparts (good-looking women earn 4 percent more).”

We closed that post by stating that “If a state as conservative as Utah actually considered a height and weight law, employers should be aware of what’s coming down the pike.”

But not so soon.

Tomorrow we will do a new post on weight bias.