You Can Never Be Too Thin If You Want To Be Rich

This is depressing on a number of levels, but also not too surprising. A study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that if you want to make more money, you should acquire extra skills and work harder. Psych! You should lose weight. Lots and lots of unsightly, poor person weight.

According to Forbes, the study found that “very thin women” earned an average of $22,000/year more than their average weight counterparts, while women who were merely “thin” earned $7,000 more. “Heavy” and “very heavy” women, meanwhile, lost $9,000 and $19,000, respectively (again, compared to their “average weight” counterparts). The same did not hold true for men; in fact, “sturdy” men actually made more money than really thin ones, although they were not rewarded for being obese.

After controlling for things like levels of education, job tenure, and job complexity, salary is a pretty good measure of how someone is being treated at work. It’s pretty clear from this study that employers are prejudiced against the overweight and for the ultra-skinny, consciously or unconsciously letting stereotypes like “fat equals lazy” and “thin equals ambitious” affect their decisions.

Where did these prejudices come from? The study doesn’t conclusively answer that, but I think they’re pretty diffuse throughout Western culture. When you picture, say, some sort of perfectionist female lawyer, do you picture an overweight woman? As great as Camryn Manheim was on “The Practice”, the cultural status quo for this archetype seems to be a thin, neurotic woman trying to “have it all.” (Think of the women on “Ally McBeal,” or every romantic comedy heroine ever.)

There is also, of course, the fact that people from poorer backgrounds tend to be overweight at higher rates than rich people, as well as having fewer job opportunities. This is a correlation, not a causation. But the study appears to have controlled for this, otherwise the discrepancy would be even higher. There’s enough evidence here to safely say discrimination is occurring. The question now is, what should we do about it?

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    • Megan

      If you don’t have a lot of money, you’re not shopping for groceries at Whole Foods, or hiring a personal trainer. If you’re working three or four jobs just to get by, you’re probably not cooking. Fast food is cheap, overly available, easy, and efficient. I can see causation, at least on these factors. The more money you have, the more likely you are to be able to afford to eat healthy and keep yourself in shape. And of course if you’re a good American and therefore a hypercapitalist, then immediately you know that not having extra money means you’re a deadbeat and not a person of worth because you haven’t bootstrapped yourself to a better place, and you draw the connection between weight, perceived income/class, perceived ambition and discipline, and therefore perceived value as a job candidate or employee.

      Unfortunately the overweight stigma is one of the most ubiquitous and least challenged in western culture right now. Every one of us carries these assumptions, even if it’s not conscious.

      Nevermind that there are all sorts of other factors that contribute to a person’s weight, like medical conditions (metabolic syndromes or fluctuations, thyroid disease, etc.), genetic body type, changes after childbirth, etc. that are not the result of overeating or lack of exercise.

    • August S.

      I skimmed the study (Oh science, damn your preference for the metric system!) and “very thin”, “thin”, “average”, etc was decided based not on BMI but on deviation from the mean– i.e., if you added a few more 200+ participants, the curve would shift and you’d see more women in the “thin” to “very thin” category.

      So according to my “The Fattest Cities in America” google search, if you’re having trouble finding work in San Francisco, CA, maybe start applying in Corpus Christi, TX!

      (Also, yes, this says very terrible things about our culture. Noted.)

      (But it was interesting that the study found the people most penalized for weight-gain were very thin women; if you go from 160 to 170, it’s no prob, but from 110 to 120? No raise for you this year, Sally, you’d obviously just spend it on ice-cream.)

      (Can you add a “Shut Up Beyonce” tag on this post, please? Because this doesn’t seem to support her proposed girl-run world. Unless the girls in question are catty anorexics…who, according this this study, would also be rich! Yay?)

    • Bee

      Well as a Thin person with a taste for mid-century Danish teak, I look forward to becoming good friends with Dr. Dukan.

    • Jim

      As typical, the lack of understanding or thought in separating correlation vs. causality suggests a serious deficiency in critical thinking skills. Oh well, I wouldn’t have expected anything more from this type of writing that fills the heads of those in this ‘field’.

      • Jamie Peck

        Third graf down, friend.

    • Sneha Polisetti

      Yikes, correlation does not equal causation. Statistics 101 guys. There are a number of reasons why a thin person may have a higher salary that doesn’t include discrimination. Someone who makes a higher salary may be more interested in eating healthy, may be able to afford a personal trainer etc

    • Jason

      Every time you hear A leads to B, think about how B might lead to A.

      Do thin women make more money? Or are women who make more money thinner?

      Do richer women have better access to gyms, yoga classes, safe neighborhoods to jog in, organic foods, dietitians? Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes.