Overweight Women Face Double Discrimination in Workplace


Slender women are preferred by many as “the face” of a company

Recently, Childhood Obesity News looked at one of the many reasons to help children maintain normal weight. Researchers have presented convincing evidence that obese boys will grow up to earn less, and that childhood obesity can affect their income-generating power in about the same way as the lack of an undergraduate degree—in other words, quite severely. Obese women, it turns out, face a double penalty.

It is well known that an income gap still exists based on gender, and women somehow end up being paid less than men in comparable jobs. Being overweight leads to the existence of another de facto penalty that is not written down in any human resources department policy manual, but that somehow just happens.

Inequality is Old News

Actually, this is not even news, we are told by NPR’s Rebecca Hersher. She describes a decade-old study by John Cawley of Cornell University:

Back in 2004, a landmark study found that a 65 pound increase in a woman’s weight is associated with a 9 percent drop in earnings. The authors of the study noted that, in terms of wages, the “obesity penalty” basically amounted to losing three years of experience in the workplace.

More recently, another study has added nuance to the issue. Jennifer Shinall, the study’s author and an assistant professor of law at Vanderbilt Law School, was curious about a few things. Is it possible that obese women choose of their own free will to work at lower-paying jobs? Or that obese women are less productive, which would, in the employer’s eyes, justify lower pay? Or could it be that women are discriminated against on the basis of their looks?

Corporate Preference for a Thin Public Face

Contact with the public is often part of occupations higher on the pay scale, and slimmer people fit the image that most companies want to project. In the upper executive echelons, there are important meetings with the power players from other companies, and the female who does not have a sleek physique will probably never get through the doors.

A cashier in a chain store also faces the public, and so do many other types of workers. Morbidly obese women in positions in which they interact with customers make almost 5 percent less than leaner women with the same job descriptions.

For NBC News, Bill Briggs reported on Shinall’s work and brought out some salient points:

Women who are considered obese or morbidly obese…are more likely to be forced into some of the cheapest-paying, most labor-intensive roles. Obese females tend to occupy lower-paying, more-strenuous jobs in less-visible corners of the U.S. workforce when compared to average-sized women and men.

He also emphasized a worrisome contradiction. A lot of poorly-paid obese women are “toiling on their feet, lifting and constantly moving.” In other words, they are getting plenty of exercise and working off plenty of calories. This throws a major monkey wrench into everything that is accepted as true about obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obese women make less money, work more physically demanding jobs,” SCPR,org, 11/08/14
Source: “Overweight Women Tend To Earn Smaller Paychecks, Study Claims,” NBCNews.com, 10/22/14
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