All men are not created equal
News Show: 20/20
Date: 27 Dec 1996

HUGH DOWNS: All men are not created equal, at least in size. Millions of little boys grow up to be short men, and if you're not one of them, you'reabout to find out how size can dramatically effect a man's life. When we first broadcast this story last May, we did an unusual experiment to test the theory that short men are often given short shrift, discriminated against over a matter of inches. Lynn Sherr with the surprising results.

LYNN SHERR, ABC News: [voice-over] Imagine a world where nothing fits, where pants are too long.

CRAIG: The crotches are down to here, the seat's down to here, the pants are up to there.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Where elevators are filled with giants.

ROB: You kind of get cramped, and you know, it's kind of hard to breath sometimes.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Where driving a car means your feet don't reach the pedals.

DAVID: You have to fumble down here, and some have bars underneath and some have these little electronic things on the side you have to figure out.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] And where you can't see the movie screen, let alone find a date to take there.

1st WOMAN: I don't care if hair color, eye color, skin color- you need to be tall. Sorry.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Welcome to the world of short men.

RALPH KEYES: Short, I mean, who wants to be short?

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Practically no one. How short is short? Well, that depends on the height of the man you ask. But since the average American male is 5 feet 9 inches, we figure any man 5'6" or under qualifies. And that, according to our ads, our icons, even our mothers, is not enough. We live in a society where taller is better, especially for men.

RALPH KEYES: And you stop and think where that comes from. When we were little, and we were all little once, we looked up at our parents.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Ralph Keyes, 5'7", wrote a book about height.

RALPH KEYES: We just assume anybody we're looking up to has power- has power over us.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Hollywood understands. Notice who Gregory Peck is surrounded with in this scene from Roman Holiday. No confusion here as to who's the leading man. As for all those actors who aren't as tall as their leading ladies, well, Hollywood knows how to fix that, too. These are reportedly Humphrey Bogart's feet during the filming of Casablanca. Experts say the real issue is eye contact, whether we're looking up to someone or down on them. You don't have to be a movie star to feel the consequences. We put Chris and Debbie, colleagues here at ABC News, in front of our camera, posing at different heights. Half the shots showed Chris as the taller of the pair.

CHRIS: The air is kind of thin up here.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] In the other half, Debbie was taller. Then we gave the photos to students at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and asked them to tell us a story about what was going on. When Chris was taller, the adjectives used to describe him were mature and respected. When Chris was shorter than Debbie, they called him submissive, childish, weak. If that's not how you want to be judged, the solution may lie inside this box.

SHOE COMMERCIAL: Elevator shoes discretely add between two to three inches to your height. Simply call toll free 1-800-290-TALL. Imagine what Napoleon could have done in a pair of these shoes.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Every day the Richlee Company mails elevator shoes discretely packaged in unmarked brown paper wrapping all across the country. They won't give out the names of their customers, but chances are you know some. They sell dress shoes, sneakers, boat shoes, hiking boots, golf shoes, all specially built to add that critical two to three inches. They even sell slippers.

BOB MARTIN, President Richlee Shoe Company: We had a customer who walked out to get his newspaper barefoot, and one of his neighbors noticed that he wasn't quite as tall as he normally is, and he called up, he was very irate, and he wanted to know why we couldn't make slippers. So, we've started making slippers. And we're selling a lot of them, so they're working for a lot of people.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] If lifts don't boost your ego, then just try what we're told is typical male behavior - lie.

ANDREA McGINTY: A man who writes down 6' is not 6'. He's probably about 5'10". A man who writes down 5'11", he's probably about 5'9"; 5'8", he's probably about 5'6".

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Andrea McGINTY, who runs a dating service in Chicago, knows all the tricks.

ANDREA McGINTY: The only way I know that they're not lying is if they say I'm 5'11 3/4". Because then, you know, you would lie. I would lie, I would say I'm 6'.

LYNN SHERR: Tell me what the women's reaction is when you say you've got someone shorter.

ANDREA McGINTY: Shorter? Two inches, "Uh, let me think about it." Four inches, "Are you crazy?" No.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] We asked her to help us construct an experiment to test just how willing women are to date shorter men. And we found three brave volunteers. Stu is the shortest. PGPH [interviewing] How tall are you?

STU: I'm 5 foot, and 5'5" with the afro.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Rob is 5'3". He prefers taller women.

ROB: I kind of enjoy it. I mean, I think there are some serious advantages to being a little bit, having a woman who's a little bit taller.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] David is getting married this fall.

DAVID: She is 5' tall.

LYNN SHERR: And you are?

DAVID: I'm 5'6".

LYNN SHERR: Oh, well.

DAVID: Yeah, giant, right.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] We recruited other men about the same age as David, Stu and Rob, but taller. We asked them all to dress in jeans and a sweater, then we did something cruel. We put them in lineups, five at a time, behind a two way mirror. The men couldn't see or hear what was going on in the next room. That's where we invited groups of women to look at the men and choose a date. In this case, we wanted to see if anyone would pick 5'3" Rob. When Andrea told us women like doctors, we gave him an M.D. Their choice?

2nd WOMAN: Andrew.

3rd WOMAN: I would say Matt, I think.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] No Rob. We piled on some more assets. We said, besides being a doctor, he was also a best selling author, and champion skier who had just built his own ski house. PGPH [interviewing] Does that effect your choices?

4th WOMAN: He's still short.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Then we gave Rob a promotion. We made him chief of staff at a prestigious hospital. PGPH [interviewing] Who would you pick?

4th WOMAN: Him.

5th WOMAN: Andrew's probably the closest to who I'd pick.

6th WOMAN: I'd pick Matt.

7th WOMAN: Jeffrey, the pilot.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] What would it take? Now we said Rob was also a gourmet cook who loves children.

8th WOMAN: Oh, definitely I would take him in a minute, then. The height, no problem.

9th WOMAN: I wouldn't, because I don't think I'd want short, little kids.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Well, at least someone liked Rob. But if it was this harsh for him at 5'3", what would it take to get a date for Stu at just 5 feet? First we made him an up and coming actor.

2nd WOMAN: No.

3rd WOMAN: No.

4rd WOMAN: Not.

LYNN SHERR: Then we said Stu had made millions by age 25.

10th WOMAN: No.

11th WOMAN: No.

12th WOMAN: Not for me.

LYNN SHERR: Nothing worked. PGPH [interviewing] How come nobody picked Stu?

13th WOMAN: He's too short.

LYNN SHERR: He's too short? PGPH [voice-over] We asked if there was anything we could add to make Stu irresistible.

14th WOMAN: Maybe the only thing you could say is that the other four are murderers.

15th WOMAN: Right, are convicted of some crime.

14th WOMAN: Child molesters.

15th WOMAN: And then we would say, "Hello, Stu!" I mean, nothing bad towards him, he's got a nice smile, he's cute.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] But no takers. So we replaced Stu with David to see if 5'6" made a difference. We brought in one last group of women. When they all picked this fellow, we told them he'd been unemployed for two years, but that our David was a chief surgeon.

16th WOMAN: I guess it would be David for me.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Two took David right away. But Tara chose Jim, whom we had made a high school gym teacher.

ANDREA McGINTY: Would it change anything if I told you that David, besides being a chief surgeon, had just published a book, that he was a gourmet cook, loved kids, and extremely wealthy?

TARA: Yeah. I'd switch to David real quick. I mean, let's be realistic. I'm going to bag the gym teacher now.

LYNN SHERR: So what's going on here? You had to make those short guys almost like God to make them desirable, right?

ANDREA McGINTY: Well, we finally made them God, and that's why they chose.

LES MARTEL: And this surprises you?

LYNN SHERR: It obviously doesn't surprise you.


LYNN SHERR: Yale psychologist Les Martel is 5'5".

LES MARTEL: It goes back to caveman times. We simply judge people, particularly men, based on their height, on their size, on their physical presence.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Why is that? We asked several of the women to come back and tell us.

17th WOMAN: I feel short men make great best friends because they're very enthusiastic, caring, because they have to make up for their height.

LYNN SHERR: But you have no interest in going out with someone shorter than you?

17th WOMAN: No. You want to look up into his eyes, and you want it to be like a movie.

18th WOMAN: I'm just attracted to taller men. I'm only 5'5" myself, but I just like tall men.

LYNN SHERR: I have to tell you, and it breaks my heart to tell you this, it turned out that being short was not good. Does that surprise anybody?

ROB: I don't think so.

STU: Absolutely not.

LYNN SHERR: Tell me what you were thinking while you were standing out there with the taller guys.

DAVID: They sure aren't picking us.

17th WOMAN: No. You want to look up into his eyes, and you want it to be like a movie.

DAVID: There's a stereotype in society that says when you find your mate, the man is bigger and the woman is smaller, you know, Tarzan, Jane. And we didn't get to speak, so-

LYNN SHERR: Well, you didn't get to speak, but we spoke on your behalf.

DAVID: Oh, thanks.

LYNN SHERR: And we made you doctors, chief surgeons, best selling authors. Stuart, we made you a venture capitalist who made millions by the age of 25. You were a gourmet cook, you loved children, you had ski houses that you built all by yourself. Sometimes all this worked, but most of the time, fellas-

DAVID: It didn't do a darn thing.

STU: It didn't do a thing.

ROB: Well, I guess that says something about people.

LYNN SHERR: What does it say to you?

ROB: Maybe the average person isn't giving us the credit that we deserve.

LYNN SHERR: Does it bother you?

STU: You know what it's like to maybe hurt? I think you know what it's like to, you know, maybe have more setbacks than taller people.

LYNN SHERR: David, you're nodding your head. Do you think that's true?

DAVID: Sure, oh yeah. Growing up you take a lot of abuse, you know, always being the short one and getting picked on and name calling. It happens.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] And we found out how very early it begins. We gave elementary school students a test asking them to match a small, medium or large figure of a man with a series of words.

TEST ADMINISTRATOR: Which man is handsome? Which man is yuckie?

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] The kids overwhelmingly picked the tall figure for strong, handsome, smart. They circled the short figure for sad, scared and weak. More than half also picked the short figure for dumb, no friends and yuckie.

TEST ADMINISTRATOR: How many of you, when you grow up, want to be tall? PGPH [voice-over] And there's another decision they've already made.

TEST ADMINISTRATOR: When you grow up and get married, do you want your husband to be tall, medium or short?

1st GIRL: Tall.

2nd GIRL: Tall.

3rd GIRL: Tall

4th GIRL: Tall.

LYNN SHERR: Is this a frivolous subject?

LES MARTEL: Not at all. It is really, in my opinion, one of the last forms of discrimination that exists.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Research shows there is discrimination, and not just from dates. One study tracked graduates of a large business school. The taller men got higher salaries. On average, $600 a year more per inch. PGPH One man who deliberately and publicly does own up to his size is Robert Reich, the United States secretary of labor.

ROBERT REICH: I have assumed for months that I was on Bill Clinton's short lists.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] At 4'9", his height is hard to ignore.

ROBERT REICH: Oh, there is a step here, okay.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] Secretary Reich has needed that extra lift since childhood.

ROBERT REICH: I remember my grandmother would chart on the wall how tall I was. And we got to 12, and she said you're going to be- and then nothing happened. And after a while we stopped measuring.

LYNN SHERR: Do you think of yourself primarily as a short man?

ROBERT REICH: I have to say, honestly, I don't.

LYNN SHERR: [voice-over] After spending an hour with him, neither do I. Secretary Reich has reached the top in a world that tries to keep short men down. He is happily married to a woman nine inches taller, and has been friends for three decades with his towering Commander in Chief. Little wonder he is now a role model.

ROBERT REICH: I do get letters from young people who know that I'm very short, letters from kids who are also very short and who are in some pain emotionally. And they want my advice.

LYNN SHERR: What is that advice?

ROBERT REICH: You do have to accept the fact that other people may feel awkward, you've got to help them with their awkwardness. You've got to use humor. But being short should not stop you, I tell these young people, should not in any way stop you from doing anything you want to do with your life.

3rd GIRL: I think it doesn't matter if a person is tall or short, it matters how big your heart is.

LYNN SHERR: Has anybody, as a result of this conversation, anybody changed her mind on- her outlook?

19th WOMAN: Yeah, sure.

LYNN SHERR: Yes, oh, let's hear.

19th WOMAN: There's so many men out there, and to single out a certain type is shallow. It'll be in my head now. It's going to be, to look lower and not, literally. Not to pass away short men because I could be missing out on some wonderful people.

BARBARA WALTERS: Let that be a good lesson to us all.


BARBARA WALTERS: So, Lynn, what has happened to these three nice guys from the early experiment? Any women in their lives?

LYNN SHERR: Well, Dave, whom we told you was getting married has gotten married, so he's -- that's all fine. Stu and Rob are still available, however. Women of America, tall or short, they're out there.

BARBARA WALTERS: I understand that you helped the retail business?

LYNN SHERR: Yes, right. You know the item we had about the elevator shoe company?


LYNN SHERR: Well, they got hundreds of requests and filled them all in plain brown wrappers.

BARBARA WALTERS: They shouldn't have to be ashamed.

LYNN SHERR: Exactly. True.

BARBARA WALTERS: Well, you know what? Here's to short men.

LYNN SHERR: All right.


LYNN SHERR: Me, too.