Digital Vision/Getty Images

Ever notice how young adults and middle-aged people often seem to tower over some of their older relatives, like their great-great-grandmothers? More often than not, it appears older adults are short. While this loss of stature is attributed partially to shrinking bones and the other physiological effects of aging, some researchers s­ay this is no coincidence at all. They pose the theory that perhaps we see so many short-statured, elderly people because they are, in fact, living longer than their taller peers. So, are short people really living longer?

The correlation between height and longevity is a topic of much debate. Studies and evidence seem to point both ways. According to the World Health Organization, Japanese women have the longest average life spans worldwide, coming in at 86 years old [source: Washington Post]. Coincidentally, the average height of a Japanese woman between the ages of 75 and 79 is just 149.54 centimeters (58.87 inches) [source: Japan Statistical Yearbook].

On the other hand, we are a few inches taller than our ancestors of only a few generations past, and we tend to have improved life spans and overall health. In 1820, the average U.S. man lived to be approximately 39 years old [source: Steckel]. The World Health Organization reports that today, the average U.S. man lives to be about 75 years old [source: Washington Post].

Another interesting correlation is the relationship between standard of living measurements and height. Researchers have noted that during stressful times, such as periods of mass unemployment, people's heights tend to be shorter than during prosperous times [source: Steckel].

So who has the edge? Is it tall people, who seem to appear more often during times of prosperity; or short people, more likely to be the norm during times of stress? And in the long run, who will be the last ones standing at the finish line?

To find out the answer to this question and see whether your height, largely a genetic gift (thanks mom and dad), will affect when you will die, read the next page.