TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: There are all kinds of reasons why one might be successful in life and work, or less than completely successful. Drive, intelligence, economic opportunity. Also, in some cases, how tall you are. Height can play a big part in whether the chips fall in your favor or not. Arianne Cohen explores than notion in her new book called, “The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life from on High.” Arianne, welcome to the program.
ARIANNE COHEN: Thank you.
Ryssdal: Is there a textbook definition of what it means to be tall? I mean, people look at me, and you know, I’m 6’1″ and people say, wow, you’re tall. And I’m like, yeah, well, you know, sometimes.
COHEN: Generally you’re tall if you’re in the top 20th percentile. Although, you’re tall if you’re taller than the people around you. I mean, it’s relative.
Ryssdal: Where did this book come from? What happened to you to write this book?
COHEN: My entire life I have been super tall. And there was no book about it. And I really wanted to understand it, and sort of make a book that was a kinda fun, foundational knowledge for tall people. This being said, what ended up happening, it’s sorta a book about success. And kinda how to succeed, and how you can kinda trace when people are succeeding and when they’re not.
Ryssdal: And there is this sort of thought out there that tall people generally have it easier. You guys, you make more money, you are more successful, you’re regarded as rich and handsome and all that stuff.
COHEN: The truth is, tall people do make more money. They make $789 more per inch per year. They live a little bit longer. And there’s a really minor, mild IQ bust. But that’s it. They’re not nicer. They’re not prettier. They’re not anything else. But they’ve sort of gotten a halo in society at this point.
Ryssdal: But $789 per inch per year. I mean, you know, that could add up to a couple of thousand dollars.
COHEN: It absolutely does. And it’s kinda of a funny joke on an individual basis. But if you look at society, that’s $170 billion of income moving from the shortest quartile to the tallest quartile every year, which is huge. I mean, that’s almost Empire Building. But what it also means is that tall people are a hugely undervalued market group. We do a lot of one-size-fits-all products. And it’s something that I think every consumer company should be looking at because tall people . . . I mean, not only are they successful, they have a lot of money, and they’re not a well-served group.
Ryssdal: You know what I’m thinking now, though? I’m thinking we need to tax you guys more, right?
COHEN: You know, some Harvard guys thought this too, Kai. You’re right on the same page as the smartest economists in the country. Two guys named Gregory Mankiw and Matthew Weinzierl, they’re Harvard economists. They wrote a paper a couple of years ago, saying that tall people should be taxed more. And the reason is economists think that our tax system is making up for the inability to tax talent and ability. So economists are always kind of seduced by the idea that, Wow, tall people consistently make more money, so we should tax them. I find this kind of offensive as a tall person. Luckily, I think that a lot of Congress does too. Congress is filled with 6-footers. In fact, over half of our senators are 6 foot or above.
Ryssdal: Are there things that people who don’t necessarily have the advantage of height can do to sort of, well, not pretend, but make up for it in a way, and sort of have that bearing and command in meetings and in the workplace.
COHEN: Absolutely. The number one thing that people need to do is act like a leader. Tall people tend to act like a leader from a very young age because other children relate to them like a slightly older peer. So they’re just always the leader from, you know, age 6 on. And in the workplace, when you’re automatically acting as a leader, that’s really important when it comes time for promotion and the bosses are looking around at who can take control. It’s the guy who has already been taking control.
Ryssdal: When you are in a room, obviously, you know people walk in, they look at you, and they think to themselves, if they don’t say it aloud, they think, wow, she’s really tall. Do you look down at the rest of us and say, Wow, they’re all really average sized?
COHEN: No, I look down and them and say please don’t tell me that I’m tall. Please. There’s three questions that tall people are constantly asked. It’s, How tall are you? How tall are your parents? And do you play basketball? And I think that a good rule of thumb is that compliments are always welcome, but please don’t ask me how tall I am.
Ryssdal: The book by Arianne Cohen is called “The Tall Book.” She’s 6’3″, by the way. Thanks a lot for your time.
COHEN: Thank you very much.
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