New research published in Evolution and Human Behavior suggests that a person’s height can influence their stance on sociopolitical issues. Across 20 countries, taller people were less likely to support wealth redistribution than shorter people, and this was especially true if they had a greater income.
The study’s author Thomas Richardson was motivated by a compilation of research findings suggesting that formidable men tend to show less support for equality and income redistribution. Psychologists and social scientists have used evolutionary theories to try to explain this seemingly arbitrary link.
People who are formidable overpower others, namely by way of strength and muscularity. Scholars have proposed that male ancestors with these traits would have been better able to use their physical power over others to acquire resources and to obtain a higher status. Being at the top of the hierarchy, these men would have more to gain from an unequal society and should therefore have been less inclined to support equality. Overall, the psychology literature has supported this theory, finding that men with greater upper body strength are less likely to support egalitarian attitudes.
In line with this reasoning, Richardson proposed that a man’s height should also play a role in his beliefs about wealth redistribution. Taller men are more formidable and should therefore be more likely to support an unequal distribution of resources that works in their favor.
To explore this idea, Richardson analyzed data from a large survey of over 27,000 people from 20 different countries in Europe. In interviews, the participants were asked to indicate the extent that they agreed or disagreed that, “The government should take measures to reduce differences in income levels.” The respondents also self-reported their height, and completed measures of several variables that might influence attitudes toward wealth redistribution, including political orientation, household income, education, and being in a position of authority at work.
Across the sample, it was found that respondents who were taller reported less support for the equal distribution of wealth in their country. Interestingly, this effect seemed to depend on a person’s income. Among wealthier people, being tall was linked to less support for wealth redistribution. But among poorer people, tallness was linked to greater support for redistribution. Said differently, those with a greater income showed less support for wealth redistribution, and this link was especially strong among tall respondents.
These interactions remained significant even after controlling for age, sex, education, political orientation, and being in a supervisory position at work. This suggests that the effect cannot be explained by the association between height and improved social standing.
Richardson notes that the findings highlight the way political beliefs can be influenced by unexpected factors that have seemingly nothing to do with politics, such as our height. “If our political beliefs are affected by factors that have little relevance to political processes (such as our own height),” Richardson writes, “it can threaten the very effectiveness of democracy. For this reason it is important to study these factors more, so that people can be made aware of their potential biases, and they can be addressed if necessary and possible.”
The researcher says that future studies will be needed in order to explore the mechanism through which height influences beliefs about income redistribution. He suggests that if this mechanism has an evolutionary basis, genes likely play a role. Alternatively, there may be other sociocultural variables at play that were not explored in the current study.
The study, “Height is associated with more self-serving beliefs about wealth redistribution”, was authored by Thomas Richardson.