Keeping Up Appearances: Why Fat People Make Less Money

man getting dressed for workFor the past month I have been making the rounds on the interview circuit in anticipation of leaving my current job (more on this later). Last week I was relating the gritty details of each interview with a close friend and expressed my anxiety about receiving an offer from any one of the companies where I was interviewing. My friend responded with these words of reassurance:

“Don’t worry. You have what everyone is looking for in a co-worker: Looks and personality.”

We both laughed at the time, but later I began to wonder if his words didn’t have at least some kernel of truth to them.

How great a role does appearance really play in career success?

While physical appearance is not supposed to legally be a factor in whether or not to hire/promote a person, studies have shown that attractive people, on average, make more than their less attractive counterparts.

For example, a study highlighted in The Regional Economist reports that overweight or obese women are shown to earn significantly less than their thinner peers:

“Economists Susan Averett and Sanders Korenman studied the effects of obesity on wages, using a sample consisting of individuals aged 16-24 in 1981 who were 23-31 in 1988. They showed that women who were obese according to their Body Mass Index (BMI) in both 1981 and 1988 earned 17 percent lower wages on average than women within their recommended BMI range.”

Women are not the only ones to suffer discrimination based on appearance. While obesity had a slightly negative effect on a man’s earning power, height seems to play a much more significant role in determining a man’s salary, with shorter men getting the “short end of the stick.”

The study revealed the following:

“Economists Nicola Persico, Andrew Postlewaite and Dan Silverman tried to explain the origin of the “height premium.” They focused on white men to avoid possible discrimination based on gender or race. After controlling for a number of family characteristics that are generally correlated with both height and wages (parents’ education, parents’ occupation and number of siblings), they found that for white men in the United States, a 1.8-percent increase in wages accompanies every additional inch of height.”

While nothing short of plastic surgery can make you taller (or even thinner in some cases) exuding a polished, professional appearance can do wonders in how co-workers treat and perceive you at work. A recent column in Diversity Inc. does an excellent job of explaining the importance of following the corporate dress code:

“Corporate culture will reflect what is necessary to do business with the widest range of people. Since the United States has the largest gross domestic product (GDP) of any other single nation–almost four times as large as the next largest economy (Japan)–it is only natural that other nations adopted our dress code. Further, psychological tests show that we are predisposed to trust people who look just like us. That’s one reason sycophantic behavior is often successful.

Most human beings really don’t like change. Having a dress code simplifies the number of variables we all have to deal with. This creates a comfort level from which we can deal with what business is there to do: Be profitable.”

Some might argue that following a prescribed dress code, such as a suit and tie, is conformist, stifling, and reminiscent of a drone scurrying around a hive. However, what a suit and tie says to co-workers, bosses and clients alike is “Yes, I understand you–how you dress, how you think, what your needs are. You can relate to me and I to you.” And in business, this could mean the difference between getting that corner office or making that big sale.


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23 responses »

  1. Obesity is rarely caused by purely medical reasons. (Please disregard obesity caused by medical reasons for the rest of this comment – it is not directed to those people)

    Obese women are that way because they are not taking care of themselves and are indulging in things they know they shouldn’t be too much. Being obese is visably displaying your faults. The alcoholic, the gambler, the comulsive shoe-shopper – they are all able to project an image of success and control. The obese person is not. This may be the reason for a lower beginning pay. The lower pay as time goes on could generally be attributed to the laziness that overweight individuals cannot escape. A highly motivated person is not obese. If you can’t put enough work in to take care of your body and health, how can you work hard enough to do your job? People like this will do the bare minimum and then complain that everone else’s standards are too high.

  2. Deceptive title. You didn’t explain *why* these people make less money.

    You didn’t critically analyze those studies. Those studies only show correlation — not causation. It is entirely possible, for example, that taller people simply tend to be more confident (the taller you are, the less people you meet who make you feel threatened; or perhaps, in combination with good looks you receive more positive feedback from people, as opposed to the person who has physical defects or imperfections). More confidence will naturally result in somebody being more willing to ask for a raise, and it’s likely that more confident people produce higher quality work, OR their work is perceived as being of higher quality; there are lots of possible explanations derived from this theory of ‘confidence’. There could be other explanations, too.

  3. To Jenna:

    You have no idea what you’re talking about, and based on the laziness of your post (spelling and grammar in particular) if I believed a word you said I would assume you are the most obese woman I’ve ever encountered on the internet or otherwise.

    People with minds as small as yours are the reason this country is falling apart.

  4. To Anon replying to Jenna:

    I believe that Jenna does know what she’s talking about. Saying that she has a small mind when she’s calling it as she sees it — and how it is, IMO — is way out of line.

    Blaming her for the state of our country? That’s pure comedy. What a dope!

    Barring a health condition which makes a person overweight, it is lack of willingness to take care of themselves. I’ve worked with lots of overweight people who contribute hugely (rim shot) to whatever endeavor we’re involved in. But I wasn’t the one signing their checks, and/or determining if they are to advance or not in a given organization.

    If their job involves contact with other companies or the public at large ( ! ) then I could absolutely understand why a manager would want to put the most attractive person out there; it’s only common sense.

  5. I agree that Jenna knows what she’s talking about. She’s just stating the truth. In this world looks matter. People like having a good looking face and body to stare at. People are more likely to stop and help or listen to a good looking person rather than a ugly or obese person. It works the same way with employment. Looks and a dash of charm can take a person a long way. Is it fair? Not really, but it’s life. Don’t kill the messenger. It’s not her fault. (Is attacking spelling and grammar the only way you can put down this post?)

  6. So all of us fat, ugly brilliant people are totally screwed, right? Can’t help the ugly, 12 surgeries later, the shrapnel scars from Khe Sahn aren’t going to go away in this lifetime. Bariatric surgery is out, the type 1 diabetes says that’s a no-no, if I want live more than a few months. But I’m talented, brilliant at times, and have seen more and done more in my careers than almost anyone I know. But since, I’m not thin and good looking, I’m totally screwed.

  7. Fat people exercise no self control, they should stop eating so much and workout more. The amount you should eat is (your desired body weight * 10) + (bodyweight * .20) – that is your daily caloric intake. The ‘recommended daily 2000 calories’ on many food labels fits someone that is 180lbs! Newsflash: if you’re under 6’2 and you’re 180lbs you’re over weight.

    Whether we like it or not, attractive people make more because they are more charismatic by default. Who would you rather associate with, an attractive friendly outgoing fit person, or a fat lazy sloth? Why do you think celebrities are usually good looking? Or models? They influence us because they’re charismatic, because they’re good looking. Attraction is deeply engrained in animal behavior.

    From an evolutionary perspective, who would produce better offspring? Who would be more likely to hunt and gather successfully? The fit person or the fat person?

    From a business perspective, who is more likely to make a sale? An attractive and charismatic individual, or a 400lbs sweaty hog eating twinkies? Who do you want representing your brand?

    Common sense people. Now stop eating so much America.

  8. Oops I got got a little confused between the Jenna, a commenter and The Office Newb, the poster. I was saying that the poster knows what she was talking about. I have no comment on what Jenna says. And no Jrandom, all isn’t lost. You’re not screwed. It’s just that people tend to get stupefied by looks. People pay more attention to the good-looking person. As as I said, it’s not fair, it’s just a fact.

  9. My complaint about Jenna’s statement is not that people prefer to look at or hire attractive people, this is obvious and doesn’t need to be debated. People love beauty, and they love what society tells them to love, which these days, is thin. End of discussion, it doesn’t need to be rehashed.

    My issue is the blatant generalization that Jenna makes that all fat people (except those with medical conditions of course) are lazy. The assumption that people who are obese are lazy is just close-minded and wrong. To say that someone cannot possibly be excellent at their job because they are not excellent at taking care of themselves to the degree that they fit into some ridiculous stereotype of appropriate weight is absurd.

    I merely pointed out Jenna’s errors in her post because it smacks of lazy to me…and it seemed like a nice correlation. That kind of lazy surely MUST come with being obese.

    I guess my real problem with fat hate is that I genuinely don’t understand why it bothers other people so much. What is a fat person doing to YOU that is so abhorrent? They are not making you be fat. They are not making you be friends with them. They are not even making you hire them…since they don’t really have that opportunity. They are just minding their own business, dealing with their lives and their problems the same way you do, and yet you hate them for it. You resort to calling them lazy and assuming that they are complainers that cannot meet high expectations, and I think that is just ridiculous small-minded thinking. I hate to call out such a cliche, but what happened to those of us without “sin” throwing the first stone. Do people who hate and stereotype fat people really have nothing “wrong” with them? Have they never battled internal demons such as alcoholism, or a smoking addiction, or anorexia, or any of the millions of addictions and problems that hold people back these days? Why do people have to hate fat people simply for being… have people with that kind of blind hate really never battled any internal demons? It must be nice to be so perfect, with nothing to hide from yourself or from society.

    I have been fat and I have been thin, and I was highly motivated and excellent at my job at both ends of the spectrum. How well I did my job had little if anything to do with how much I weighed, the same way I assume it has little to do with other “unsavory” characteristics that other people may or may not have present in their lives.

    The real irony is as I think about this, I was probably even BETTER at my job when I was fat, because I knew I had to be better in order to compete. I’m not blind, it’s obvious that it is better in this life to be thin and pretty, but how much do we really need to punish people for not being that way? Isn’t not being that way “punishment” enough?

  10. Yeah sorry anon. I was confused. I don’t think all fat people are lazy. Genetics make a big impact on our metabolic rate. Sorry…

  11. I too have been fat and thin. My set weight, as an adult has run to 135 lbs at 5’5″. It’s what I usually end up at when I get my weight back down.
    This is also the weight I was, which fluctuated 20 pounds higher and less, over a two year period (I had surgery) at when I was working for a law firm in Northern Indiana. The office was designed in a square. The outer, window, rooms were lawyers. The inner wall held cubicles for secretaries. There were approximately eighteen secretaries. One half of us, on one side the square were not thin, the other half on the other side were thin.
    The girls who were fat made considerably less than the girls who were thin. There was no other distinction. All the same race (which is a whole ‘nother problem)and varying lengths of time we were there. It was the only common denominator we could find. Fat and not thin girls make less.

    One of the thin ones had access to payroll. To her credit she was appalled to find out that all the heavier girls, even if just

  12. very true. Appearance do make a difference. Depending on the job you are going for. If you are in the sales marketing world appearance is very beneficial. But if you are in the IT world I will certainly hire a big fat computer nerd over a savvy looking person.

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  13. I think this is very true for women but much less true for men.

    I think that for men one of the main issues is height. I am 6 foot 4 and I can tell you many times where I have been given service, or benefits ahead of other people. I am large also, not too bad for my height, and I don’t think that I have lost that much money due to my weight. I look like the traditional fat cat boss that all the movies show. Over all I think my size has helped me in my business life more than hurt me. I know it was not good in my personal life.

    Jason Dragon

  14. height for men, weight for women… not just in jobs n salaries but also in dating. lots of otherwise not superficial women won’t date a short man. and obviously skinnier girls are more attractive to men (except for certain subcultures…)

    it is just a correlation tho, not causation. how big a factor in obesity is self-confidence? how big a factor in self-confidence is obesity? then, how big a factor in salary or success is self-confidence? It would take several studies to isolate the effects of each.

  15. So, even though I’m not slim, tall and good looking, does that mean they won’t be stupified and pay more attention to me because I’m the Chief Information Officer?

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  19. Oh my goodness! When I (old enough to be your mother)logged on to this 20-something blog, I was expecting a refreshing point of view that a younger mindset might offer a tough topic such as the plight of the overweight working female. Instead I am horrified to find the biggoted opinions of a bunch of superficial and shallow minded spoiled brats. I can’t imagine what your parents would think of your inconsiderate lack of concern for the human race in general. You should all consider your place in this life and your criticisms of others–you are working on some really, really ugly karma here!

  20. helloer! actually, i don’t see anything wrong with your post or those replies in the affirmative. it is simply the truth, and sometimes, or often times, the plain truth hurts. – physical appearance do matter, more so in the corporate world.

    obese people should see this report as a motivation for them to shed those unwanted pounds and eventually look good, do good and feel good. not that they are not now.

    i am quite chubby, maybe fat too by definition. and i feel that it is really unfair to be judge by the pounds a person has, but along side this unfairness and anger that i am feeling, i am quite challenge and motivated to take control of my weight, to take control of my life.

  21. Some of what Jenna said was true…some of it was quite ignorant.

    I’m obese due to poor eating habits I developed when prior to adolescence, my natural metabolism allowed me to consume anything I wanted to without any ramifications. At age 23 I was 6’1″ and weighed 172 pounds soaking wet. I consumed between 4000-7000 calories a day. Frankly, I looked TOO skinny. Now at 38 I’m pushing 320 pounds and eating less than half of what I was in my 20’s. It’s a mental challenge for me, due to my families genetic tendencies (we all had hyper metabolisms in our youth that normalized in adulthood). The truth is I need to eat less and exercise more and anyone who says otherwise is delusional.

    Now…what Jenna got completely wrong is this in no way affects my work ethics. I’m the top contributor in a team of 6 engineers, always have been, always will be. On the other hand, we just dumped our worthless narcissistic CTO who always looked VERY nice and nearly drove our company into the ground with his “do nothing, take credit for anything good, find scape goats for all his faults” attitude.

    Furthermore, some of the laziest people at my company are the sales force, who are ALL about looks and personality and who almost never put in a full work day. Two of the worst offenders are body builders and crazy strict about their health diets.

    Some obese people are lazy, and there may be some correlation to laziness and obesity but there are certainly no hard and fast rules tying them together. I’d say just as many of the overly vain are in the same laziness boat.

    As for the article…I’m going to have to agree that in our society of vanity, greed and grey area morals, being fit and looking nice will definitely help your chances to make more money. It’s not right, but it’s true.

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