Discrimination against shorter people, as reported by Andrew Solomon

by on November 21, 2012 at 7:32 am in Books, Economics | Permalink

One recent study observed that adults with achondroplasia have “lower self-esteem, less education, lower annual incomes, and are less likely to have a spouse.”  The income statistic bears witness to institutional discrimination against LPs; the study found that while three-quarters of the dwarfs’ family members, presumably demographically similar to them in most regards, made more than $50,000 per year, less than a third of the dwarfs made that amount.

That is from Andrew Solomon’s new book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.

I pre-ordered this book eagerly, but overall I am having difficulty with it.  Too many sections throw too much at the proverbial wall and fail to sort out truth from fallacy.  I am not sure what is supposed to be insight and what is supposed to be a recording of different views.  I would have liked a more direct confrontation with the issue of parental narcissism.  This is still a good review of the book.  I longed for a page of Ross Douthat or Michael Bérubé.

The book, however, supplies excellent data for anyone wishing to study the utter hypocrisy of current understandings of diversity.

One Amazon reviewer raised a good question:

As a special ed teacher, my question is, does it make sense to include murderers in the same category with deaf people, dwarves, and people with physical disabilities? Perhaps he has a justification for it, in that parents might be disappointed and heartbroken in all these cases. But right off the bat that seems wrong to me, categorically different, moral deviance v. physical or intellectual.

Solomon is a very smart guy.  But overall this book leaves one with a sense of being tired of the value of the individual, written by an author overwhelmed by what comes across as, despite Solomon’s quest for nobility, a rogue’s gallery of misfits, baroque style, and without the writing itself coming to terms with the book’s own underlying emotional tenor.  Is it unfair to read this as still being, ultimately, a book about depression?

This book may interest many of you, and its publication can be seen as an event of sorts, but I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it.

Brian Donohue November 21, 2012 at 7:49 am

There oughtta be a law!

rapscallion November 21, 2012 at 8:39 am

But because the evidence of twin and adoption studies about genes is irrelevant, we know that comparing incomes within families has myriad methodological flaws and means nothing. So the study Solomon writes about really isn’t worth mentioning and no conclusions can be drawn from it.

Miley Cyrax November 21, 2012 at 10:28 am

This will “whoosh” a lot of people.

Mark November 21, 2012 at 9:53 am

“utter hypocrisy of current understandings of diversity”

This is my current understanding of diversity: in a complex adaptive system, agents with different perspectives can bring alternative interpretations of a problem domain, and thus finding a solution can often (not always) be more efficient with diverse agents rather than homogeneous agents. A population of average but diverse agents tends to outperform even superior homogenous agents. There are difficulties that can arise from diversity, such as fragmentation (in a CAS), or less social cohesion or greater communication difficulty (in studies of humans in collaborative experiments).

Extending this to policy (such as college admissions) is very tricky. Diversity from different perspectives would mean that you might like to see a spectrum of students from conservative to liberal, secular to religious, poor to rich, urban to rural. And yes, racial diversity. Exposure to different perspectives and alternate solutions to problems could be beneficial to learning; this has not been proven, but seems plausible given what we’ve seen so far. The costs of diversity have been demonstrated more easily.

As someone who may or may not have benefited from affirmative action, I understand the difficulties of getting diversity right. But I also believe that straightforward meritocracy in which merit is defined as test scores and high school grades is terribly short-sighted.

cournot November 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

“But I also believe that straightforward meritocracy in which merit is defined as test scores and high school grades is terribly short-sighted.”

As opposed to randomly penalizing huge groups of hard working, often much poorer people, just because their racial group works hard and does well on tests?? And trusting admissions bureaucracies to decide which facets of superficial racial diversity are de rigeur?

Sure, tell yourself whatever you need to as long as it justifies your unfair privilege Mark.

Andrew' November 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Why do we limit seats? Is the education going to run out?

Mark November 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Top 1% in test scores, top 5% at a good high school. I didn’t need it (not even sure ‘my people’ actually get credit at the university I attended). One criticism of diversity policy is that it undermines the credibility of anyone falling into a group that might benefit. At least in the eyes of those who use whatever measure supports their constructed view of the world (perspective, in CAS). Re-reading my post, it’s interesting that I had a blind spot for diversity in gender and sexual orientation. But if you truly believe test scores and high school grades are an objective measure of merit, then I hope you’re not heavily involved in hiring decisions.

Anon. November 21, 2012 at 10:12 am

Couldn’t at least part of this be rational? Height is a function of factors that (nutrition during infancy and childhood, health of the mother during pregnancy, etc.) also influence other variables that you’d expect to be correlated with pay and mates (i.e. intelligence).

Not only that, but if we assume that an inherent advantage to height exists (not that weird a notion), then we would expect that assortative mating would eventually lead to taller people being more intelligent on average (and vice versa).

Both of the above are the case: intelligence and height are correlated, and there are both genetic and environmental components that go into the correlation.

See: Resolving the genetic and environmental sources of the correlation between height and intelligence: a study of nearly 2600 Norwegian male twin pairs.
and: On the sources of the height–intelligence correlation: New insights from a bivariate ACE model with assortative mating

Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jive November 21, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Height is sexually antagonistic. Short women are more fertile than tall women (look it up), but unfortunately for the brothers of short women who also get the shortness genes, their reproductive fitness goes the other way. A lot of stuff in genetic heritability is like this, and some have theorized that sexual antagonism represents incomplete evolution.

Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jive November 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm
Roy November 22, 2012 at 5:02 pm

What the heck is incomplete evolution?

I mean that this actually sounds like a relatively stable system, and evolution isn’t teleological anyway.

Miley Cyrax November 21, 2012 at 10:25 am

To what degree is the function that describes putative discrimination against short people continuous and/or linear, i.e. is there a special “kind” of shortness discrimination against dwarves, or is it part of the overall putative discrimination against run of the mill short people, especially men? Tall men make more money than short men, and women overwhelmingly prefer tall men, ceteris paribus.

Mark Thorson November 21, 2012 at 10:34 am

At a previous employer, the top two guys in the sales department were both unusually short. I often wondered whether their shortness caused them to overcompensate in ways that made them terrific salesmen.

Ray Lopez November 21, 2012 at 11:16 am

achondroplasia = translated from the Greek = ‘a – short – body’. Somehow it sounds better in Greek with Latin letters. Same thing happened in English when the French invaded in 1066. For example ‘dunking-water’ became “baptism”. And what of ‘homo economicus’? A fancy word for? Posting comments too quickly? It’s my first post…hmm.

Go Kngs, Go! November 21, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Like much jargon the “Posting Comments Too Quickly” message is clear only if you already know what it’s meant to convey.

In the same vein, is “is supportive” the same as “supports”?

Peter November 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Could it be that many adults with dwarfism are collecting disability benefits rather than working?

D November 21, 2012 at 1:20 pm

“A population of average but diverse agents tends to outperform even superior homogenous agents.”

If by average we mean IQ 100 or less, and if we’re talking about very complex and difficult problems, I highly doubt this is the case.

dirk November 21, 2012 at 3:01 pm

The liberal concept of diversity is this: there are no freaks, you just think there are because you are a bigot. So a book claiming: we should consider *these freaks* in our concept of diversity — has the wrong premise.

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