Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Weight Loss & Diet Plans

Font Size

Extra Pounds Can Cost Workers Big Bucks

Obese Women More Likely to Suffer Wage Discrimination Than Men
By
WebMD Health News

Nov. 17, 2004 -- Being obese can affect more than your health, it can affect your livelihood, too.

Misty Watts had worked as a waitress for the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain for two and a half years last August when she says she was fired out of the blue for being overweight. Just three days earlier the widow, part-time college student, and mother of three was named "Employee of the Month" at the restaurant, but on the day she was terminated a visiting district manager told her she didn't fit the company's image.

"I asked him, 'Are you firing me because I'm fat?'" the 240-pound, 5-feet, 5-inch tall Hickory, North Carolina woman tells WebMD. "And he said, 'Let's just say it's because your shirt doesn't fit and it never will.' When my store manager asked if they could keep me and not hire anyone else with this image the response was, 'No, we have an image to uphold and we have to start now.'"

The Pound Penalty

Weight discrimination in the workplace is common, but the economic cost for individual workers of being obese is not well understood. In a newly published study, finance professors from Middle Tennessee State University sought to quantify this cost using analytical methods that controlled for other variables that have been shown to influence income.

The issue is of growing importance, as more and more Americans find themselves heavy enough to be considered obese. About one in three adults in the U.S. meet the standard, meaning they have a body mass index of 30 or more. There are now more obese adults in this country than cigarette smokers or drug users.

The MTSU researchers found that the economic cost of obesity, or the "pound penalty," as they called it, was much greater for women than for men. But both sexes experienced a persistent obesity-related wage penalty over the first two decades of their careers.

After controlling for other variables influencing income, obesity was found to lower a man's annual earnings by as much as 2.3% and a woman's by as much as 6.2%. The average reduction for women was around 4.5%, study researcher Charles L. Baum, PhD, tells WebMD. The findings were reported in the September issue of the journal Health Economics.

"Four and a half percent may not sound like a lot, but over the course of a career it can really add up," Baum says. "If you earn $50,000 on an annual basis, that is $2,250. If you multiply that over a 40-year career, that's almost $100,000."

The researchers attempted to identify other explanations for why overweight workers make less. In their analysis the discrepancy could not be explained by lower productivity or customer discrimination. But there was some evidence that obese employees were less likely to seek training to further their careers.

The findings echo those of an analysis combining 29 studies of employment discrimination compiled by Western Michigan University management professor Mark Roehling, PhD.

Roehling tells WebMD that weight appears to be more consistently associated with economic discrimination than any other factor, including race, gender, and age.

"The evidence suggests that weight has a stronger and more consistently negative impact on earnings than anything else," he says. "And the effect was consistently greater for women than for men."

Today on WebMD

vegetables
Video
feet on scale
Blog
 
Woman looking at reflection in mirror
Article
Hot cup of coffee
Quiz
 
woman shopping fresh produce
Video
butter curl on knife
Quiz
 
eating out healthy
Article
Smiling woman, red hair
Article
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
thumbnail_woman_tossing_spinach
Video
lunchbox
Article
 
What Girls Need To Know About Eating Disorders
Article
teen squeezing into jeans
fitfor Teens