Weight shouldn’t predict wage ranges

Cindy Luo

Just when it seemed like you couldn’t be judged more by your physical appearance, a recent study shows that women who have a significantly lower than average weight also make significantly higher than average money. Men, on the other hand, make less money as they weigh less, and more money as they weigh more, up until the brink of obesity.

Timothy A. Judge, management professor at University of Florida, tested the effect of weight on salary for men and women for 12,686 U.S. residents.

The average woman in this study weighed 147 pounds and the average man weighed 182 pounds, which is less than the national average weight for adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The average measurements for adults 20 years and older are about 5 feet 9 inches tall and 195 pounds for a man and 5 feet 4 inches tall and 165 pounds for a woman.

Even after adjusting for factors such as height, age, job complexity, industry and childhood socioeconomic status, the study found that women who weighed 25 pounds less than the group average earned an average of $15,572 more every year, whereas a woman who was 25 pounds heavier than the average weight earned an average of $13,847 less per year than a woman of average weight.

For men, being 25 pounds under the average study weight led to earning $8,437 less annually. Their wages actually increased – in one of the studies, the peak earning was at 207 pounds.

So what, exactly, do these numbers amount to? It’s not a matter of health, at any rate. According to the CDC, a healthy BMI is within the range of 18.5 to 24.9. Although the number for a BMI is far from being set in stone as an indicator of health, a woman who is around 5 feet 4 inches to 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs around 147 pounds is well within the boundaries of a “normal” BMI, as is a woman who weighs 25 pounds fewer.

Oddly enough, for a man between 5 feet 9 inches and 5 feet 11 inches tall, 195 pounds is firmly rooted in the “overweight” category, and even 170 pounds is at the upper level for “normal” weight.

The studies seem to indicate that there is still bias when it comes to people’s weight and physical appearance. For women, the standard is thinness that is difficult to attain healthily; for men, the standard is more questionable. Weighing 170 pounds is still considered “overweight” category for a man who is 5 feet 9 inches tall and on the higher end of “normal” for a man who is 5 feet 10 inches or 5 feet 11 inches tall. So why is there a discrepancy when it comes to earnings for an “overweight” man versus an “overweight” woman?

If weight gain is punished by society because of health, why is it that only heavier women bear the brunt of lower wages? Why not heavier men? A separate study by the George Washington University Department of Health Policy found that the overall, tangible costs of obesity are $4,879 for a woman, and $2,646 for a man. This only includes health, work and fuel-related costs, not other lifestyle arrangements that might cost an obese individual more. Again, obese women are more severely penalized than obese men.

Ultimately, weight should not be an issue when it comes to salary. If it’s a matter of performance, perhaps we should stop stigmatizing people based on their physical appearance. After all, performance is tied in with self-esteem, and society has always done little to enhance the self-esteem of people outside of our standardized weight paradigm. Maybe if we stopped fat shaming, if we stopped setting impossible weight standards, we could eradicate this egregious pay inequality.

Cindy Luo is the associate commentary editor for the Daily Campus at the University of Conneticut.