Short Boys More Likely Held Back in School

Last Editorial Review: 7/24/2002

Short boys are more likely to have to repeat a year in school than boys of normal stature or than girls irrespective of height, according to research just published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (March 28, 2000). Birthweight and parental education, factors which are often associated with differences in children's heights, did not influence these findings at all.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne, Australia measured the height of children in a cross-section of just under 3000 boys and girls from 24 different primary (elementary) schools. There were about equal numbers of boys and girls. They ranged in age from 5 to 12 years. And there were around 400 children in each school year.

Older boys were relatively shorter than their younger peers for each of the school years: two thirds of the "repeaters" were boys. The findings could not be explained by social and economic factors, ethnicity, or parental education levels -- all factors known to be associated with height differential.

Height selectively slowed boys down in their progression through the primary school grades. Height had no detectable effect upon girls in this regard.

The authors suggest that while the smaller boys might have been performing less well at school, overall, than their taller peers, their height may have "tipped the balance" in favor of a decision to keep them back a year. This may reflect societal attitudes towards short children, they conclude.

There is some evidence to show that height influences the way in which a person is perceived, and that adults tend to treat children at a level appropriate to their size rather than their age.

Reference: Melissa Wake, David Coghlan, and Kylie Hesketh. Does height influence progression through primary school grades? Arch. Dis. Child. 2000; 82: 297-301.

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