The smaller the body size, the bigger the paycheck?

That’s right, folks. A new study published in the fall issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology found not only that skinny women make more money than women with larger body sizes, but they make a helluva lot more — in fact, a whopping $16,000 more a year on average:

The study found that thin women are paid significantly more than their average-size counterparts, while heavier women make less. Skinnier-than-average men, on the other hand, cash smaller paychecks than their average-weight peers.

Experts say it’s just another sign that as a society, we’ve internalized the unrealistic, media-driven physical ideals that show up in the workplace — and therefore the pocketbook.

“Employers don’t purposely think of these things when they’re evaluating a person,” said Teresa Rothausen-Vange, a management professor at the University of St. Thomas, who was not involved in the research.

“They don’t say ‘Okay, this woman is skinny, I’m going to give her a raise.’ But research has shown that if you have two resumes, if all other qualifications make the candidates equal, the more physically attractive one — whether it’s a skinny woman or a muscly man — will have the leg up.”

Wow. Americans are just full of integrity these days, aren’t they.

via Shelby Knox

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26 Comments

  1. Posted January 31, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Correlation does not mean causation. However, the correlation certainly is interesting. It is possible that the women who have higher paying jobs are better able to keep their weight down, as they are more likely to afford to belong to a gym and perhaps have more resources to eat healthier. While I think that there probably is a bias towards hiring the more attractive candidate, I think we should also take into account that a higher paying job helps people better make themselves into the “ideal” standard of beauty.

  2. Posted January 31, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    This goes right along with “attractive” people making more money. Whoever is considered most attractive by current standards, all other things being equal, tends to get more pay. And like hires like.

    16k is very big, considering the average US salary is something like 50k. It would be impressive (and unexpected) to see any discrimination legislation based on these findings.

    • Posted February 2, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Because most jobs in America have become de facto sales or spokesperson jobs. When this is the nature of your work, discrimination based on appearance in inevitable.

  3. Posted January 31, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I think the most crucial bias we all hold is our ability to empathize more with people who we perceive to be like us. Along with that is our ability to favor people who we think we ought to be. Much of this is completely subconscious.

    Nothing much surprises me these days about hiring practices. And now that dire economic circumstances have made jobs scarce, we are seeing patent, indisputable evidence of hiring biases.

  4. Posted January 31, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    ick – I hate this kind of stuff – why do we all have to be so judgemental?

  5. Posted January 31, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I don’t really see this as America’s lack of “integrity.” Like Emily, I caution against assuming correlation = causation, but even if we are to assume that you’re more likely to get hired if you’re a thinner woman, I doubt that’s indicative of any great social injustice.

    I think in any culture around the world, you’d find people’s hiring practices are affected by the attractiveness of said individual, according to that culture’s definitions of beauty. It’s not deliberate, it’s not even conscious, but it happens. And yes, it sucks for those of us who are not skinny women. But I wouldn’t say that this reflects poorly on the hiring managers or HR personnel. It’s another example of the way fat women get the short end of the stick, to be sure – and a reason why a healthier standard of beauty is needed – but it’s not necessarily a sign of Americans’ obsession with beauty or anything.

    • Posted January 31, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      I feel the same…while I don’t, at all, doubt that there’s a bias towards skinny women (there’s some correlation from the evident causation, and some from elsewhere, I’d guess), I feel fairly certain that in general, there isn’t enough conscious motivation there to rip someone for lacking integrity.

    • Posted January 31, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      I definately agree with the concepts that Emily and nicole are presenting but …

      “But research has shown that if you have two resumes, if all other qualifications make the candidates equal, the more physically attractive one — whether it’s a skinny woman or a muscly man “… this implies that they are in an equal situation –

      I agree that if we were to say women who eat lobster have healthier pregnancies – that the idea there could be overshadowing the wealth of the lobster eaters and the other factors that wealth involves – but if we are looking at two equal resumes and hire the ‘thinner’ woman at a larger sum – doesn’t this imply that we are favoring thiness?

      • Posted February 1, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        Ok but if you’re going to open that door you have to be prepared to answer the question:

        If everything else is completely equal except for ones attractiveness, what SHOULD one use to decide who to hire?

        Should we be advocating they always hire the less attractive person? Then that discriminates against the attractive one. One could say they should hire equally, but given that this is a macro metric, there’s no way to enforce that or to know which one you’d have to hire to “equal things out”.

        I think if everything else really is equal, it IS reasonable to hire based on attractiveness. Because having an attractive person at your workplace increases the chances of landing and retaining clients and customers, and can also increase the moral/happiness of your employees. I can’t be the only one who finds one of the few good things about my job the fact that there are some attractive people who work there whom I enjoy seeing each day.

        Tough issue.

        • Posted February 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

          [H]aving an attractive person at your workplace increases the chances of landing and retaining clients and customers, and can also increase the moral/happiness of your employees.

          I guess here is where you need to ask, what is your definition of “attractive”? Where does your coworkers’ attractiveness come from– is just being well-groomed, clean and nice-smelling good enough, or is your response greater to someone who clearly has a lot of means to “invest in themselves”?
          This is important: for it answers the question as to whether good looks are going to be the province of the privileged, or if they’ll be accessible to everyone with as little time and money cost as possible.

          And, especially… why do you feel happier in the presence of attractive people? How much of the mood boost comes from their attractive personality as well as/more than their looks… a warm, genuine smile does even better for looks than a professional makeover, and is absolutely free.
          Does the boost come from feeling like you’re going to make more money, or like the supervisor, with a mood boost of their own, is less likely to criticize you… and therefore their attractiveness gives you a feeling of job security?
          (I personally worry about an attractive or fashionable person being hired at my company changing the dynamics of the workplace, overnight making it less hospitable to those outside the beauty norm. Social proof and all that.)

          Actually, we could all do some good asking these seemingly no-brainer questions. We also should be asking where our happiness comes from, too; and putting equal importance on how we get happy as that we’re happy in the first place. It is plain to me from this article, for instance, that Republicans derive a great deal of their happiness from choosing not to bother themselves with the plight of the less fortunate. And everyone gets the message that happiness comes from choosing not to think too much, which understandably results in some people thinking “more is more” and deciding that if thinking not too much makes you happy, thinking not at all will make you even happier…

          • Posted February 2, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

            Not sure I understand most of your post/questions. Who I consider attractive is just that… it’s often hard to pinpoint why and it varies from person to person. There’s no one quality or type of person that I”m attracted to, I’m attracted to alot of people for alot of different reasons and sometimes I don’t even know why I’m attracted to them, I just am. I personally don’t believe it has to do with class though. You can be poor and still be attractive. It is less common I am sure but I don’t think what your getting at holds true in most cases.

            WHY do I feel happier? Do I really need to explain? Do you not enjoy being with and looking at attractive people? I don’t know how to explain it if you don’t. But it makes people happy. It has nothing to do with any “boost” I might get in the workplace or job security or anything like that though. It has everything to do with sex and sexuality.

            As for your last paragraph, I don’t quite understand a fixation on why you are happy. First off, how can anyone know why they are happy. Second of all, if you are happy, analyzing why would seem to only introduce the possibility that you might make yourself unhappy as a result. Why would you want to do that? I understand the social justice implications – certainly one must be aware of any negative impacts they are having on others – but beyond that I fail to see what this analysis would provide. Happiness is hard to find. If you find it, and aren’t getting it as a result of directly negatively impacting other people, why question it?

          • Posted February 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

            @Honeybee (for some reason it wouldn’t let me next inside you comment)

            There’s no one quality or type of person that I”m attracted to, I’m attracted to alot of people for alot of different reasons and sometimes I don’t even know why I’m attracted to them, I just am.

            …WHY do I feel happier? Do I really need to explain? Do you not enjoy being with and looking at attractive people? … It has everything to do with sex and sexuality.

            If we must be attractive in addition to everything else to get a job, then lets broaden the definition of attractiveness. I’m glad you seem to agree with me on that one, in finding a wide variety of people attractive for various reasons.
            If happiness from beauty is about sex… okay, all well and good when we’re talking personal relationships. But why, then, by this definition are HR reps and hiring managers using the criteria for romance be used to assess whether someone can earn a living?

            Although some psychologists may disagree, you can, strictly speaking, live without sex and romance. You cannot live with earning a living. And this generation we see an unprecedented increase in subjective factors influencing earning a living. This is wrong.

            I personally don’t believe it has to do with class though.

            Beauty products and procedures may be getting cheaper, but they still cost money. Money you have to spend on your look is still money that can’t got toward your bills, or toward a vacation or your loved ones or your hobbies. Beautification also costs time, and women in general have to spend more time on grooming than men do.

    • Posted February 2, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      But I wouldn’t say that this reflects poorly on the hiring managers or HR personnel.

      Actually, I would kind of beg to differ… this would show that these managers/HR people pride themselves a little too much on quick decision making, and choose not to develop the imagination necessary to make the time and energy to treat their rejectees with more respect.

      But then again, maybe their workplaces and bosses require they act like this. Maybe quick, instinctual decision making is the only kind of decision making countenanced by most corporations, because it’s the least costly, of course.

      The entire message is basically, “humanity is too costly”. The rich variety of human personalities in all their glorious complexity is too costly.

      This is what happens when you allow bean counters to set the tone of an entire culture, and allow cost savings to reign supreme. You basically find yourself being in the position if telling people that if they personally are not sufficiently profitable, they are worthless. And we wonder why half the country is on antidepressants. You don’t treat human beings like that.

      We have to make it profitable for our companies to treat their employees like human beings. Nothing less than this will re-enfranchise people.

      • Posted February 2, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        That will never happen as long as capitalism reigns supreme, which I think it always will be.

        You also need to stop equating ones earning potential with ones self-worth. People will low earning or profitable potential are, or can be at least, just as worthy as anyone else. Your self-worth is not dictated by your pocket book, not unless you fully believe in capitalism at least, in which case the entire point gets turned around.

        • Posted February 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

          It’s not me that’s equating earning potential with self-worth. It’s the unconscious belief of many of our capitalists.

          I would love it if self-worth paid the bills, fed our bellies, and put roofs over our heads. Unfortunately, our social safety net is so thin, that this cannot be the case.

  6. Posted January 31, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I think part of this might also be how we internalize what society says about us. Skinny women are told, “You’re valid, you’re wanted, you should go for that raise!” Fat women are encouraged to hold back, because “You don’t really deserve raises, you’re not valid and you shouldn’t bother trying.”

    Did they control for location and poverty? These could both influence pay grade and body type. Certain areas are associated with both low SES and high average weight. Did they control for race? I also caution against attributing the ENTIRE difference to weight, correlation and causation should be kept separate and one study does not a hypothesis prove.

    That said, it’s good we’re taking a hard look at these things and we should all pay more attention to how we allow disadvantages in the way society views people generally to translate into economic disadvantages for real people.

  7. Posted January 31, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    “Americans are just full of integrity these days.” Problematic. While the study was done on Americans, that by no means indicates that only Americans have this kind of bias, or that it is limited to “these days.” Hating those in the study for being American doesn’t help; it clouds the issue, and is every bit as judgemental as the study being ridiculed.

    • Posted February 1, 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Agree – I am positive you would find the same results in any country.

      And as for “these days”, I am again positive that in the “old days” the situation was the same or possibly even worse.

    • Posted February 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      I actually think it is important to highlight Americans in this study, for the simple reason that no society has promoted the virtue of gut-feeling decision making more than America. Trusting our gut as feminists have extolled it, is supposed to give us greater power to avoid rapists and sociopaths– it’s not supposed to lead us to think of fat people, skinny mean or any other person who falls outside society’s preferred appearance as less capable of doing work or presenting a professional image.

      But here you have people using the gut the wrong way, to enforce societal privilege in a new and insidious way. They’re screening out too many quality people, and send the message to those who are worthy to be hired by them, that it’s more important to fit their image than to do quality work. And we wonder why our economy is failing.

      • Posted February 1, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        That’s not entirely accurate though.

        The issue was with two EQUALLY qualified candidates. Not turning down a more qualified candidate because she was “fatter” or less attractive then the other.

        So quality people ARE being hired. Equally quality people who just happen to be skinnier. But the education, certification, etc. requirements remain unchanged. As an applicant you still need all of that to be considered.

        If anything the message is that it isn’t enough to be qualified for a job, you also have to be attractive.

        • Posted February 1, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

          If anything the message is that it isn’t enough to be qualified for a job, you also have to be attractive.

          Attractiveness has become a class issue– those who start out more advantaged to begin with, are most likely to be able to afford the appearance upkeep. I wonder: are those of us with large student loan balances going to be unable to stick to a budget, because if we don’t spend a certain amount of money on personal maintenance, we could become “poor fits”? I’m already in my early 30′s; should I start saving up for a facelift fund in 15-20 years? Only oops, I’m sorry… I don’t have enough to put away, what with servicing all this debt. Is the response from the working world going to be, “tough toenails; if you really cared about your career, you’d do whatever it takes”?

  8. Posted February 1, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    These are what I think of as the most important parts:

    The researchers, Timothy Judge and Daniel Cable, say that much of the problem is the result of subconscious decisions based on entrenched social stereotypes.

    Their report cites studies in which obese individuals were identified as “undisciplined, dishonest and less likely to do productive work.”

    Conversely, the researchers point out that employers and fellow employees associate values of self-discipline, thrift, hard work and positivity with thin individuals.

    That’s not too new– overweight people have been hearing that “lazy, shiftless” tune for years. What is new is seeing more and more employers frankly admit to a preference for thinness as a smart business and social strategy:

    Many companies are very conscious about the “look” they have representing their company, Rothausen-Vange said, knowing that potential clients or investors will share these internalized values, as well.

    Seth Rieder, a designer for an advertising and marketing company in Minneapolis, said he has seen the stereotype play out. “Taller, more muscular guys, bigger guys, seem like they have more power and can be more intimidating, and I think that can link to where you move in a company,” he said.

    It not just thin women who are considered best able to represent the company; it’s everybody who has as gendered and heteronormative a look as possible.
    Why? Because they make us the most comfortable. And in a job market where cultural fit often trumps qualifications, we’re going to hire the ones we find most likeable. And who is that most often? Those who are most like us, who are most familiar, who make us the most comfortable. Those, in other words, who go along with society’s messages and have the wherewithal for continual upkeep of them.

    What’s another lesson that’s been drilled into Americans’ heads all last decade? That making decisions from the gut is the best way to make them. It makes us happier, enough scientific research backs it up, and it’s presented as a piece of evidence we have strong interpersonal skills. Dubya may be gone, but our employers have found that it feels good to think and make decisions like him.

    I look at what results from a strict “go with you gut” decision making process, and it looks like it will always promote all types of privileged individuals. The gut itself favors the privileged. That is our challenge, as it is with all forms of unconscious bias: to know that unconscious decision making will always give the privileged and familiar the advantage; and to consciously come up wiht more meritocratic ways of decision making.

    But equally important to take away: society has taken its messaging up a notch. Watch that part closely: knowing that potential clients or investors will share these internalized values, as well. It is taken as a given that in order to build rapport with someone, we must be similar to them. Therefore, those who both internalize society’s values and live by them in their dealings with other people, are being presented as having superior interpersonal skills compared to those who choose to step off the normative lifestyle path.

    It’s a new level of coercion to those of us who want to choose our own path. A reputation for lacking social skills can be the kiss of career death. So those of us who argue for a more progressive society are potentially being considered not merely morally suspect or “weird” as in the previous generation, but actually emotionally unhealthy, or even antisocial– not interested in doing whatever it takes to get along with others, or demonstrating commitment to personal excellence. This is a nasty, nasty message; and one that’s potentially far more effective at silencing progressive voices. Why fight for liberal values if it will get you considered unemployable and psychologically deficient? This is also potentially why Americans seem far more docile in the face of social and economic injustice than Europeans.

    How do you fight a societal message if it’s taken your livelihood hostage? I would very much like to hear what you have to say about this.

    • Posted February 1, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      Excellent post!

      The only thing I would counter is that companies DO also have to worry about appearing progressive or at least politically correct (just not too progressive…). They do want to have their token black person, token disabled person, and token gay person, etc. so they can get black clients and gay clients too. And you would NEVER see a company be openly racist or discriminatory because they don’t want to offend any potential clients or customers.

      Unrelated – as for making decisions from the gut – this thread is the first I have ever heard about this. I always thought that conservatives advocated that and liberals advocated using things like science and fairness to make decisions. I don’t see how anyone could argue that “gut” decisions are better then decisions based on empirical evidence. Then again it’s never stopped conservatives from trying this argument.

      • Posted February 1, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

        I always thought that conservatives advocated that and liberals advocated using things like science and fairness to make decisions.

        Huffington Post is considered liberal, right? And yet, has there been a source more dedicated to pseudoscience and exaltation of the gut over the analytical mind? Has there been a source that more unnervingly has pushed a false mutual exclusivity between thinking and happiness? (like the old “ambition and relationships are mutually exclusive canard women are very familiar with)

        I don’t call that “liberal” at all. Neo liberal, maybe. Someone who thinks of themselves as being liberal while in reality being a lot less so, sure.

        • Posted February 2, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

          I don’t live in the US so I can’t really comment. All I know is that things in the US are way way more F’ed up then in most other countries. Even “Liberals” in the US are pretty conservative by many countries standards.

          But for the record, alot of progressives/liberals I know hate Huffington, so I never personally considered it a Liberal paper. But I’ve never read it or seen it so I can’t evaluate it myself.

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