More Bad News for the Height-Challenged

They’re more likely to be criminals! Or at least they were in 19th-century Pennsylvania, according to a new working?paper by Howard Bodenhorn, Carolyn Moehling, and Gregory N. Price. The authors don’t identify a reason for the height differential, but do point out that “[i]f in early America, short individuals faced labor market disadvantage because of either lower productivity due to lesser physical capacity for heavy work, lesser productivity due to lower cognitive ability, or because they faced discrimination, the relative opportunity costs of crime would be lower which would increase the likelihood of transitioning into criminal activity.”[%comments]


This reminds me of my great-grandfather Joseph Drury. I never knew him, but my mom told me about him. He stood 5-5, a stark contrast to the men in my generation, who are all 5-11 and up. But due to his short stature, Joseph became a gun runner for the IRA in 1916. Since his appearance was so non-threatening, he could get through security checkpoints armed to the teeth. I hear he was very charming if you got to know him. My mom sure liked him.

Joe D

Or is it possible they were just that much more likely arrested and convicted due to bias on the part of John Law?


Being a criminal isn't a bad life -- the head of a mob or gang (e.g. the Black Gangster Disciple Nation) from Freakonomics could make much more money than someone working in the legal marker.

Robert Evans

A useless observation because there is no link to a publication, nor an evaluation of the evidence and strength of the relationships, if any. The authors may be correct, they may be wrong. The Times reader, on the basis of what is presented, can not make an independent judgement.


"short individuals [...] lesser productivity due to lower cognitive ability"

What?!?! Short == Stupid?!!


Probably nutrition and poverty are the actual drivers.

Eric M. Jones

But Phrenology was quite common then, so head bumps and shape and all physiognomy were all used to predict personality and character traits.

Be careful, it's all malarky! Although, I do think it is undeniable that "Short people have no reason to live...."


Short People
Randy Newman

Short People got no reason
Short People got no reason
Short People got no reason
To live

They got little hands
And little eyes
And they walk around
Tellin' great big lies
They got little noses
And tiny little teeth
They wear platform shoes
On their nasty little fett

Well, I don't want no Short People
Don't want no Short People
Don't want no Short People
Round here

Short People are just the same
As you and I
(A Fool Such As I)
All men are brothers
Until the day they die
(It's A Wonderful World)

Short People got nobody
Short People got nobody
Short People got nobody
To love

They got little baby legs
And they stand so low
You got to pick 'em up
Just to say hello
They got little cars
That got beep, beep, beep
They got little voices
Goin' peep, peep, peep
They got grubby little fingers
And dirty little minds
They're gonna get you every time
Well, I don't want no Short People
Don't want no Short People
Don't want no Short People
'Round here


Gary Richardson

"short individuals [...] lesser productivity due to lower cognitive ability"

As in not as smart or as in their brains are closer to the ground?


Newton was 5' 6". Last I checked he was considered to be somewhat intelligent.


I have to agree that the information presented is not thorough enough to portray a conclusion.

I hope the article gets into issues like how short you have to be in order to become a serial killer, etc.

Realistically though, aaron is probably right. Poor nutrition correlates with poverty which correlates with crime (and may also touch on Joe's comment about law enforcement bias). Poverty also tends to be neighborhood-centric and in earlier times with lesser mobility people may have been likely to find their mate closer to home subsequently creating entire slums of poor, short, criminals. Or something like that. :)

martin Henner

Maybe the shorter or smaller people were more likely to be bullied when they were children, and had to develop skills in fighting to defend themselves, which enabled them for crime.

Scott S.

Interesting. Pickpocketing was a very common crime in the 19th Century and those who were pickpockets skewed towards younger, smaller men, I believe. Pickpockets probably got arrested over and over again. Smaller men could also be useful in confidence games.


Sounds similar to the work of Harvard professor William Sheldon's work in the 1940s on the relationship between certain body types and criminality. Sheldon found that a mesomorphic body type (medium bones, solid torso, low fat levels, wide shoulders with a narrow waist, etc.) was more likely to be present among criminals.


I think #6 got it. Lack of nutrition --> poverty --> propensity for crime.

#13 probably also has a point, though doesn't research suggest that taller people are viewed as more trustworthy?

height challenged lover

I do not believe the reason the crimes are being more committed by short people. I think that it is just a coincidence. It does not matter how short you and not being able to get a job. There are plenty of jobs out there that don't need manual labor and that it wouldn't matter if you could carry a lot or not. I believe that it is just a coincidence and people should not pin this against short people. They the same opportunities as we do and are not more likely to commit crimes in my opinion.

John O.

I believe that there may be many more of these little, seemingly insignificant details about people that may lead to bigger, more important traits of a person. The appearance of someone and the way someone is raised can possibly lead to these things, such as being more likely to become a criminal, or perhaps to become successful.

Tico Brohey

One has to take into account individual experience in life when looking at this way of thinking. The physical height of a person has nothing to do with their cognitive ability or capacity for heavy work. A 'shorty' has the same chance of becoming a criminal as does anyone else. Well, except for midgets. Nothing against midgets but I've never seen a midget villain. They're just not intimidating. Aside from in movies. Which doesn't count.

stefan kreshner

I have a grandad who is pretty short to this day he stands at 4'10 he is 85 now.I remember when he was a little over 5'0 but now he has lost some height.He was in the 2nd world war and then in the police force.He was a very good person to look up to.I have never heard of him getting in trouble.My grandmother was taller than him she was 5'6.My dad came and he takes after his dad he stands at 5'1 and my mum is 4'10.My aunt stands at 5'5.Then comes me i stand at 4'9 and still shorter than my grandad who is shrinking.My sister is 5'3 tall lastly is my brother who stands at 4'11.So in our family it seems that all us guys have drawn the short straw in the height department.Has far has i can recollect none of us have been in trouble we have all kept our noses clean.Maybe the guys have faced some injustice in the workplace.I remember my grandad saying how he was picked on in the army then in the police force.My dad also have problems in his job with being a car mechanic.I have been passed over for promotion in the bank along with my brother.So yes being short can hold you back has people think that you cant compete but we can.My grandad used to think he was shrinking when he hit his 50's has he used to notice that he wasnt coming up just under his wifes shoulder.When we used to visit he was measuring up his height to all of us.I used to say what you talking about least you are taller than me.Now he just laughs and says it wont be long till we are the same height.I keep thinking that if we do start shrinking in our 50's by the end of our lifetime i could lose nearly 3 ins.WELL this is gonna be a nightmare after being this short and possibly end up standing nearly 4'6 tall.Thats wrong.. I mean all us guys have always found it hard shopping for clothes Me and dad cant even buy adult clothes.I tend to shop in the junior section where i can pick up the right length trousers.Even dad does it we check out our height on the chart and it tells us what age to check.My height generally comes out at age 9'10 if i am lucky.My dad can buy age 12/13.Even the tops come out of there has well.It is quite funny has none of us guys have decent size feet.I can get into a size 2 which sells out alot it must be quite popular for the boys.My dad gets a size 5 and grandad is a size 4.I always wished i could just pick up a pair of trouser the adult ones but they are way too long even the short legged.My dad tried a pair and had to have 6 ins cut off and they didnt look right.So when it comes to family gatherings and we had photos all the guys are standing in front of their wives which looks quite funny but we are used to it now.Just push us guys to the front to be seen hey.


francis briggs

I find it quite hard understanding the height differential in families.Has in my family my dad is 5'5 and mum is 5'3.I have a sister who is 26 and she is 5'7 then comes my brother who is 23 and he is 5'9.I am 20 and i am 4'10.I am not sure if me being in a gymnastics club had stunted my growth has i was the only one out of us and i did it for 6 years.My grandparents are 5'2 and 5'7 from my dad side and my mums side are 5'1 and 5'6.I decided to join when my teacher mentioned that there was a gym club.I started with 3 friends has we knew each other for ages. There was 2 boys also that we knew.We were about 7 at the time and left when we were 13.During this period the 6 of us hardly grew and my mum checked with the doctor when i was 13.We were told that during the gym time we endured a very intensive workout programme.This apparently could have some effect on people height.I told my friends and we decided to stop.I mean we thought it strange anyway because during our time there the new children were nearly has tall has us.If not taller than us that is why i checked it out.I must have been 4'7 when i was 13 my friends were all around this height when we left school us 3 girls were all under 5'0 meghan only managing 4'9.The 2 boys ended up around 5'2 and 5'4.All their parents were taller than them.Also their siblings and that frustrated the boys even more. I only find the name calling disrespectful especially by younger kids.Some try to stand next to me to see if they are taller.I dont think it is all short people that have a tendancy to fight and get in trouble.I mean we are pushed to the limit but i have never got in trouble.