Fast Facts: Dwarfism


Throughout history, people with dwarfism have been misrepresented in art, literature, and movies. Fighting against the stigma and discrimination associated with being a person of short stature is still the greatest challenge that people with dwarfism face on a daily basis. The focus tends to be on the novelty of stature rather than common personal attributes. For example, with a camera in just about every cell phone, on a typical day most Little People experience the humiliation of strangers accosting them for photographs!

Today, people with dwarfism are challenging stigma and misperceptions by raising awareness and insuring that people with dwarfism are treated with respect and dignity.

The Facts About Dwarfism

  • – Dwarfism occurs in all races and ethnicities
  • – 80% of little people are born to parents of average size[1]
  • – Most types of dwarfism have some co-occurring medical complications
  • – Dwarfism affects an estimated 30,000 people in the U.S. and more than 650,00 in the world.[2]

While many people affected by dwarfism don’t feel that they have a disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with dwarfism.

Language Is Important

  • – The word “midget” is considered very offensive. An interesting exchange between actor Daniel Woodburn and film critic Roger Ebert about the M word can be found here.
  • – Terms such as Little People, people of short stature and people with dwarfism are considered acceptable, and most people with dwarfism see the word “dwarf” as acceptable. As with all identities, most people would rather be referred to by their name than by a label.
  • – Instead of the word “normal,” the word “average” should be used. For example, parents could be described as “average-sized” instead of “normal-sized.”

The Stigma and Discrimination of Heightism

A 1987 study involved asking hundreds of university students to rate the qualities of men of varying heights using seventeen different criteria. Both men and women, regardless of height, thought that men between the heights of 5’2″ and 5’5″ were less secure, less masculine, less capable, less mature, less positive, less successful, less confident, less outgoing; and so on.[3]

Short stature is a stigmatized condition that has proven to have significant influence in employment opportunities and success. In 1980, employment-firm executive Robert Half described the advantages that tall people had in the job market, noting that University of Pittsburgh research verified that men at least 6’2″ received job offers more than 10 percent higher than those under 6 feet.[4]

A survey of Fortune 500 Chief Executive Officers found their average height to be 6 feet tall[5], well above the national average height of 5’9 ½”, and certainly above the average adult height of someone with dwarfism – 4 feet tall.[6]


[1] NIH, National Human Genome Research Institute, Accessed 10/19/2015

[2] Ireland, P. J., Pacey, V., Zankl, A., Edwards, P., Johnston, L. M., & Savarirayan, R. (2014). Optimal management of complications associated with achondroplasia. The Application of Clinical Genetics, 7, 117–125.

[3] Martel, L. F., & Biller, H. B. (1987). Stature and stigma: The biopsychosocial development of short males. Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books.

[4] Rotstein, G. (2006, September 27). For short people, it’s the height of prejudice. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Accessed 10/19/15

[5] Statistic Brain Research Institute, Accessed 10/19/15.

[6] Mayo Clinic, Accessed 10/19/15.


Spotlight Calendar

Each month B Stigma-Free will spotlight a different area for attention. Blog articles, fact sheets and social media emphasis will call attention to the issue of stigma and the identified topic. Do you have suggestions for us to include? Tell us your ideas here.


Future Spotlight Topics:


November 2015 – PTSD

December 2015 – Religion

January 2016 – Socio-Economic Status

February 2016 – Eating Disorders

March 2016 – Gender

April 2016 – Substance Abuse

May 2016 – Older People

September 2016 – Albinism

October 2016 – Learning Disabilities