A new study shows that employers seem to treat women exactly the way the fashion industry does – by rewarding very thin women with higher pay, while penalizing average-weight women with smaller paychecks.
Very thin men, on the other hand, tend to get paid less than male workers of average weight. Men earn more as they pack on the pounds – all the way to the point where they become obese, when the pay trend reverses.
The study is the first look at the effects of being very thin on men vs. women. Separate studies of 11,253 Germans and 12,686 U.S. residents led by Timothy A. Judge of the University of Florida found very thin women, weighing 25 pounds less than the group norm, earned an average $15,572 a year more than women of normal weight.
Women continued to experience a pay penalty as their weight increased above average levels, although a smaller one — presumably because they had already violated social norms for the ideal female appearance. A woman who gained 25 pounds above the average weight earned an average $13,847 less than an average-weight female.
Men were also penalized for violating stereotypes about ideal male appearance, but in a different way. Thin guys earned $8,437 less than average-weight men. But they were consistently rewarded for getting heavier, a trend that tapered off only when their weight hit the obese level. In one study, the highest pay point, on average, was reached for guys who weighed a strapping 207 pounds.
The study suggests employers should examine their assumptions about employees’ weight, because they may be rooted in prejudice. However, there also may be a logical explanation, the study points out: People who conform to others’ ideas about the ideal body image may actually perform better on the job, because they can wield more influence over other people and get more things accomplished.