Big Girls Make Less Money

You’d have to be an alien — a fresh-off-your-intergalactic-space-ship alien — not to know that women all over the world make less money than men, on average. But did you know the more overweight a woman is the more likely she is to work a low-paying job?

That’s the scoop according to a new study from Vanderbilt Law School. And, typically, the correlation between size and salary isn’t nearly as pronounced for overweight men. Sigh.

To figure out how weight affects pay study author Jennifer Shinall used data from the American Time and Use Survey and Current Population Survey, and focused on how male and female weight classes work for one of two job types: personal interaction and physical activity. Personal interaction positions like sales and communications tend to pay more, while physical activity jobs like day care and food preparation tend to pay less.

The bigger a woman is, the more likely she is to have a physical activity job. Shinall said men, however, seem to do well in either type of role. “I suspect that employers are not hiring heavier women for these types of jobs because of either their own preferences, or what they perceive to be the preferences for their customers.”

Weight discrimination makes sense, particularly in some of the “vainer” industries like fashion and marketing. But it also doesn’t make sense, because obesity is increasingly common on a global scale.

Diversity executives have their work cut out for them uprooting this kind of hiring bias — as if there wasn’t enough for them to do — because few interviewers will say to a candidate, you’re too fat; I’m worried you’ll scare people away. One, I’m pretty sure that’s illegal, and two, most people aren’t that honest or rude, so how could someone prove weight was the reason they didn’t get the job?

Solving this particular problem isn’t about weight loss either. One, someone’s weight is their business. Two, there are people who exercise daily, eat fabulously well and they’re still big. That’s how their bodies are made. The solution is more likely to be found in the slate of candidates offered for personal interaction positions. Hiring managers will need to make sure that not only are they offering leaders a diverse slate by way of race, ethnicity, gender, etc., but that they’re more accepting and welcoming to physical differences as well.

Leaders can’t let the superficial keep viable talent away from the door. The way things are going in the global marketplace these days, companies need every advantage and every perspective in order to thrive. So don’t be down on the big girls. We all age, we lose our looks, metabolism slows down, we get plumper and some of us are bigger than others. It’s a fact of life. Accept it.

"Venus at a Mirror" by Peter Paul Rubens courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.