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?