By Brett Arends
June 2, 2014
Is your weight holding you back at work? Is your waistline undermining your ambitions?
This isn’t me talking. This isn’t your mother, your best friend or your mirror either. It’s some new research.
Life is unfair. Women are more likely to be judged on their looks than men. But some new research has put some numbers on weight discrimination – and, most intriguingly, it has found that there is basically an “optimal weight” for your career for both sexes.
“The more you weigh, the less you make,” observe Marco Caliendo of the University of Potsdam and Markus Gehrsitz of the City University of New York in their latest paper, “Obesity and the Labor Market: A Fresh Look at the Weight Penality” (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2396442).
Research finds a close link between weight and employment prospects, they write. “Higher weight is not only associated with drawbacks for those in employment, but also for those searching for a job. Chubby job seekers have considerably lower chances of initially ﬁnding a job than their slimmer, equally qualiﬁed peers,” they say. “Obese unemployed are forced to spend more time on welfare,” find it harder to get back to work, and are paid less when they do, they add.
But in their new paper they looked into the data in more detail and found some new, and surprising, twists.
In a nutshell: Both men and women are likely to face weight discrimination. But while women are likely to be penalized for weighing too much, men are more likely to be penalized for weighing too little. The “ideal” weight for both sexes is quite similar, but while women may see their careers held back if they stray too far above it, men may want to avoid straying too far below.
The researchers also found that women are more likely to face weight discrimination in white collar jobs than in blue collar, while in men the reverse appears to be true.
The hypothesis is that that lighter men appear weaker (in a blue collar environment) or less substantial (in a white collar one).
“Our results indicate looks-based discrimination against women in terms of lower wages, albeit only in white-collar jobs,” write Caliendo and Gehrsitz. “Even women of normal weight are subject to wage penalties, and thus it might be misleading to refer to this eﬀect as an “obesity penalty”. Our analysis also suggests that what at ﬁrst glance appears to be looks-based discrimination against underweight men more likely results from a lack of ﬁtness and strength, which tend to be of particular importance in blue-collar jobs.”
The professors looked at data for 22,000 people in 12,000 households across Germany over a period of many years, as reported in the incredibly, Germanically-detailed German Socio-Economic Panel survey. They compared individuals’ Body Mass Index, or BMI, with their hourly earnings. They also controlled their analysis for other variables, including education levels, family status and size, jobs and so on, in order to isolate as far as possible the influence of mere weight.
For the uninitiated, BMI, is a standard and simple – if a little crude – measure of whether or not you are overweight. It compares your height and weight. The World Health Organization says that in general terms a BMI between 20 and 25 is healthy. A BMI over 25 is overweight, and a BMI over 30 is obese. If you want to work out your own BMI, you can find a calculator from the National Institute of Health here http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/BMI/bmicalc.htm
For women in white collar jobs, they found that the optimal “BMI” was about 21.5. “Our model indicates that women’s wages peak at a BMI of around 21.5, and steadily decrease for higher body weight,” they wrote. “There appears to be no penalty for obesity, but rather a wage premium for slim women.” Women’s average earnings fell slowly for each pound or kilogram over that level.
What does a BMI of 21.5 mean?
WOMEN: THE “PERFECT” WEIGHT
- 5′ 0″ = 110 lbs
- 5′ 1″ = 114 lbs
- 5′ 2″ = 118 lbs
- 5′ 3″ = 122 lbs
- 5′ 4″ = 125 lbs
- 5′ 5″ = 129 lbs
- 5′ 6″ = 133 lbs
- 5′ 7″ = 137 lbs
- 5′ 8″ = 142 lbs
- 5′ 9″ = 146 lbs
- 5′ 10″ = 150 lbs
- 5′ 11″ = 154 lbs
- 6′ 0″ = 159 lbs
For men, the optimal BMI appears to be about 23 – at the high end of normal, and just below obese. But whereas women are likely to get penalized for weighing more than the optimal weight, men are more likely to get penalized for weighing less. There is “evidence for wage penalties against men who are deemed too light,” say Caliendo and Gehrsitz. A man with a BMI below 23 may face a wage penalty, but a man with a BMI above it probably won’t – even if he is obese. This is sometimes known as the “portly banker” effect: The theory is that lighter men appear less substantial.
However, while Caliendo and Gerhsitz found weight discrimination against women was more pronounced in white collar jobs, they found weight discrimination against men more pronounced in blue collar jobs.
What does a BMI of 23 for men mean?
MEN: THE “PERFECT” WEIGHT
- 5′ 3″ = 130 lbs
- 5′ 4″ = 134 lbs
- 5′ 5″ = 138 lbs
- 5′ 6″ = 143 lbs
- 5′ 7″ = 147 lbs
- 5′ 8″ = 151 lbs
- 5′ 9″ = 156 lbs
- 5′ 10″ = 160 lbs
- 5′ 11″ = 165 lbs
- 6′ 0″ = 170 lbs
- 6′ 1″ = 174 lbs
- 6′ 2″ = 179 lbs
- 6′ 3″ = 184 lbs
Make of it what you will. Does your company’s executive suite consist mainly of fat men and skinny women?
Originally published by Forbes.com