Association of height and violent criminality: results from a Swedish total population study

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Background: Violent criminality is at least moderately heritable, but the mechanisms behind this remain largely unexplained. Height, a highly heritable trait, may be involved but no study has estimated the effect of height on crime while simultaneously accounting for important demographic, biological and other heritable confounders.

Methods: We linked nationwide, longitudinal registers for 760 000 men who underwent mandatory military conscription from 1980 through 1992 in Sweden, to assess the association between height and being convicted of a violent crime. We used Cox proportional hazard modelling and controlled for three types of potential confounders: physical characteristics, childhood demographics and general cognitive ability (intelligence).

Results: In unadjusted analyses, height had a moderate negative relationship to violent crime; the shortest of men were twice as likely to be convicted of a violent crime as the tallest. However, when simultaneously controlling for all measured confounders, height was weakly and positively related to violent crime. Intelligence had the individually strongest mitigating effect on the height-crime relationship.

Conclusions: Although shorter stature was associated with increased risk of violent offending, our analyses strongly suggested that this relationship was explained by intelligence and other confounding factors. Hence, it is unlikely that height, a highly heritable physical characteristic, accounts for much of the unexplained heritability of violent criminality.

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