Falling Short: On Implicit Biases and the Discrimination of Short Individuals

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Socio-psychological research solidly shows that people hold implicit biases against short individuals. We associate a host of positive qualities to those with above average height, and we belittle those born a few inches short. These implicit biases, in turn, lead to outright discrimination. Experiments prove that employers prefer not to hire or promote short employees and that they do not adequately compensate them. According to various studies, controlling for other variables, every inch of height is worth hundreds of dollars in annual income, which is no less severe than the wage gap associated with gender or racial discrimination. Given the proportions of height discrimination revealed in this Article, I examine why it is not legally addressed. How come the federal system and most states do not view height discrimination as illegal, and why are such discriminatory practices ignored even by their victims? Using psychological literature, I argue that the answer lies in the "naming" of this phenomenon. We fail to recognize height discrimination because it does not fit our mental template of discrimination. The characteristics we usually associate with discrimination--intentional behavior, clear harm, specific perpetrator/victim, and specific domain--do not exist in height discrimination, so we fail to categorize it as such. This Article explains why, despite the "naming" difficulties, the legal system should not ignore the widespread heightism phenomenon. Based on the psychological literature, it suggests ways to deal with it, focusing on the provision of information and on consciousness raising.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719-770
Number of pages52
JournalConnecticut Law Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2020


  • Bias (Law)
  • Race discrimination
  • Sex discrimination
  • Justice administration
  • Employers


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