Editor’s Pick
DECEMBER 24, 2009 3:00PM

Investing in Inches

Rate: 6 Flag

Asian boy

"Parents would rather add 10 centimeters to their children’s stature than bequeath them one billion won,” said Dr. Shin Dong-gil, a Hamsoa doctor, invoking a figure in Korean currency equal to about $850,000.

From A1 of today's New York Times - on South Korean "growth clinics" where children receive hormone shots, acupuncture treatments, and other remedies for the vertically challenged.  Along with folded eyelids and flat noses, Asians are increasingly shedding their yellow skin - now by breaking from their history of middling height.  The latest in a trend of what amounts to a determined mimicry of the occident - where crania reach into higher strata, if only literally.

10 centimeters.  That's almost 4 inches - as a Korean-American myself, I'd be fine with 2 - but at over $200,000/inch I'm not sure it's worth it.  Or is it?

A correlation between height and personal income is well documented, and not just in the U.S.  An added inch of height amounts to about 2% of added annual income - making height even more of a decisive factor in pay than gender.  For the average American, a 4 inch height advantage translates to an extra few hundred thousand dollars by retirement.   But that's still a long way from making any significant gains from a near million dollar investment.

It may be that the returns are not financial but emotional.  Taller people, on average, report happier feelings than shorter people.  Maybe it's simply glee over what lives of comfort their height-earned dollars afford them.  But we all know what money can't buy.  So does height=$=: )?  Or is it some other causal permutation?

Perhaps relative height is less important than a sort of "magic height" - which for men, seems to be between 6' and 6' 2".  Obama is 6' 2", McCain is 5' 7" (60% of the time, the taller Presidential candidate wins the popular vote).  In 2005, the average height of a Fortune 500 CEO was 6 feet, with a whopping 30% over 6' 2" (compared with 3.9% in the general population).  That year, one of these fortunate executives could expect an average of $12.7 million in compensation.   I wonder if Dr. Shin is taking appointments.

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I totally agree with the height prejudice you describe. My uncle (not Asian) is tall and also handsome. He didn't have to do much to get a platinum life-style.
But if everyone ends up being tall, then what?
I'm saddened by this, why are so many societies around the world trying to emulate the US? The "western" standard of attractiveness/worth doesn't merit this. I LOVE the diversity of the world and am dismayed with how many people strive to become more westernized. I say embrace the beauty you were born with.

I thought this was about penile augmentation.

200K per inch?
Joy Mars - If everyone ends up being tall we have plenty of other traits to discriminate by, weight for instance!

LadyMiko - Couldn't agree with you more, I've written more about Asian/Caucasian issues in a previous post http://open.salon.com/blog/jungsoo/2009/12/21/we_the_yellow

Larry - The title reads "per inch of height" not "length", which is the dimension customarily cited when referring to penis size, didn't mean to pull a bait and switch!
Very interesting. Malcolm Gladwell discusses the correlation between height and income in "Outliers." Thanks for the post.
So, 850k at 5% interest for 20 years is S2.25 million. Over 50 years its 9.7 million.

Just me, but I'd take the cash. I kinda feel like that much money invested early in the child's life is probably gonna work out to alot more earnings than a few a inches of height.
I'm just over 5'9, which is pretty tall for a woman. I haven't noticed any benefits, except being able to reach stuff without asking for help. That's always a plus.
There are benefits to being short: you get away with acting helpless, you can be noncommittal, you can wear absurdly Lolita-esque things (this applies to women, mostly) at almost any age, you will invariably be described as "cute," and when you trip and fall on your face, it's more hilarious than embarrassing. Tall people tripping is just a mess.

However, I have always felt that there is an intrinsic advantage to "looking down" on everyone else in the universe. As a person shorter than most, I always have to look up, and in a way, this makes everyone my inner 5 year old's parent.
This kind of racially charged self-alteration (and alteration of one's children) is becoming even scarier as we fast approach the horizon of designer offspring through genetic engineering. Good piece. Rated.
Steve - I'm a huge fan of Gladwell, I really enjoyed his last.

Alex - Great breakdown, I wish I'd thought to include that!

Natalie - Perhaps it's less about the benefits of being tall, more the detriments of being short. Reaching stuff is handy though.

ohsuzie - If the benefits of being short amount to being a hilarious tripping Lolita than I suspect most would forgo that fate.

BOKO - It does have a eugenic ring to it doesn't it...