Hey, big risk taker

Correlations are fun, aren’t they? What would the newspapers be without them? With an empty Health and Science section, that’s what.

According to a paper by Olaf Hubler at the Institute of Empirical Economic Research, there is a correlation between being tall and a willingness to take risks. “Tall people responsible for financial crisis!”might be a headline some newspapers may wish to consider.

You are probably a little unconvinced. And so you should be. As the paper goes on to point out, once you take into account certain personality traits, parents’ behaviour, an individual’s abilities, and environmental effects, the apparent relationship between height and risk-taking disappears. But it does turn out that height is a good proxy for some of these factors.

There are common factors that might “cause” both height and higher levels of risk taking. For example: good health in childhood increases height, and healthy people are more willing than others to take risks.  From this, you couldn’t conclude that height causes risk taking.

But there is also a correlation between height and self-confidence, and between self-confidence and risk taking. Could height encourage the development of certain personality traits that encourage a greater willingness to take risks? The author suggests: ”

Tall adolescents tend to think of themselves as leaders, and their peers tend to agree. As a result, they are obliged to make difficult decisions — that is, to deal with risk — earlier than their peers of average or below-average height. Consequently, risk appeals to them; self-confident, they tend to downplay the negative aspects of risk-taking, instead of being chiefly concerned with maintaining their status quo.”

Potentially plausible? You might also, however, want to take into account the rather low correlation coefficients between risk and height: 0.059 for men and 0.062 for women.

The full paper, “Are tall people less risk averse than others?” is here.

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