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Obesity, Attractiveness, and differential treatment in employment 

Obesity, Attractiveness, and differential treatment in employment

Dan-Olof Rooth (2009) presents evidence of differential treatment in the hiring of obese individuals in the Swedish labor market. Fictitious applications were sent to real job openings. The applications were sent in pairs, where one facial photo of an otherwise identical applicant was manipulated to show the individual as obese. Applications sent with the weight-manipulated photo had a significantly lower callback response for an interview: Six percentage points lower for men and eight percentage points lower for women. This differential treatment occurs differently for men and women: The results for men are driven by attractiveness, while the results for women are driven by obesity.

Dan-Olof Rooth (2009), Obesity, Attractiveness, and Differential Treatment in Hiring: A Field Experiment, J. Human Resources 44(3):710-735

The Impact of Attractiveness in Wages

Level of attractiveness has been correlated with financial income. For example, Frieze, Olson, and Russell (1991) surveyed MBA graduates over a ten year time period and found a relationship between facial attractiveness and starting salaries and future salaries. Specifically, for men, attractiveness increased starting salaries and the amount of money earned over time. For women, attractiveness did not influence starting salaries, but did influence the amount of money earned over time. In addition, researchers calculated how attractiveness on a 5-point scale related to earnings. Results indicated that men earned $2,500 per increase in level of attractiveness on the scale and women earned $2,150 per increase.

Roszell, Kennedy, and Grabb (1989) examined the relationship between physical attractiveness and income attainment among 1,062 employed Canadians (aged 18+ yrs). Findings suggest that attractive people earned higher annual salaries than less attractive people did. Controls on a variety of other variables suggest that this relationship held for men, older employees, and those engaged in occupations primarily filled by men. Women, younger employees, and those working jobs largely performed by women tended not to gain any significant economic return from greater physical attractiveness.

Hamermesh, Daniel and Biddle (1994) found that plain looking people earn less than people of average looks, who earn less than the good-looking/attractive people. The penalty for plainness is 5 to 10 percent, slightly larger than the premium for beauty. The effects are slightly larger for men than women; but unattractive women are less likely than others to participate in the labor force.

Using three waves of data collected at two organizations, Michael T. French (2002) tested for earnings differentials among workers based on their self-reported appearance. Significant earnings premiums for attractiveness were found for women, but not for men.

Frieze, I. H., Olson, J. E., & Russell, J. (1991). Attractiveness and income for men and women in management. Journal of Applied Social
Psychology, 21 (13), 1039-1057.

Roszell, Patricia; Kennedy, David; G abb, Edward (1989), Physical attractiveness and income attainment among Canadians, Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied. Vol 123(6), Nov 1989, 547-559.

Hamermesh, Daniel S & Biddle, Jeff E, 1994. “Beauty and the Labor Market,” American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(5), pages 1174-94, December.

French, Michael. 2002. “Physical Appearance and Earnings: Further Evidence.” Applied Economics, 34: 569-572.

The Impact of Obesity on Wages

In a study by Rothblum and colleagues (1990), of persons who were 50 percent or more above their ideal weight, 26 percent reported they were denied benefits such as health insurance because of their weight and 17 percent reported being pressured to resign or fired because of their obesity.

Evidence of discrimination based on obesity is found at virtually every stage of the employment cycle, including selection, placement, compensation, promotion, discipline and discharge, according to a research review by Mark Roehling, a professor in the Department of Management, Western Michigan University. In addition, the bias extends to assessments of overweight individuals in their various work-related roles both as subordinates and co-workers. Of his findings, Roehling said, “Overall, the evidence of consistent, significant discrimination against overweight employees is sobering.”

Roehling (1999) reviewed 29 research studies of employment discrimination that included both laboratory and field studies. He found that Wages of mildly obese white women were 5.9 percent lower than standard weight counterparts; morbidly obese white women were 24.1 percent lower, according to two studies. In contrast to females, the wages of mildly obese white and black men were higher than their standard weight counterparts. Men only experienced wage penalties at the very highest weight levels.

Pagan and Davila (1997) studied the relationship between obesity, occupational attainment and earnings. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), the authors utilize a multinomial logit specification to investigate the occupational selection of obese individuals. They then estimate earnings functions that account for the occupational attainment of the overweight. They find that women pay a penalty for being obese but overweight males, via occupational mobility, sort themselves into jobs to offset this penalty. Weight-related occupational sorting of males may be the outcome of the low barriers they face when moving across occupations. The occupational segregation found for obese women, however, may be mostly rooted in labor market discrimination.

John Cawley (2004) finds that weight lowers wages for white females; OLS estimates indicate that a difference in weight of two standard deviations (roughly 65 pounds) is associated with a difference in wages of 9 percent. In absolute value, this is equivalent to the wage effect of roughly one and a half years of education or three years of work experience. Negative correlations between weight and wages observed for other gender-ethnic groups appear to be due to unobserved heterogeneity.

Rothblum ED et al (1990), The relationship between obesity, employment discrimination, and employment-related victimization. J. Vocational Beh. 1990; 37:251-66.

Roehling M (1999), Weight-Based Discrimination in Employment: Psychological and Legal Aspects, Personnel Psychology, 1999, 52, 969-1016

Pagan J. A.; Davila A. 1997, Obesity, occupational attainment, and earnings: Consequences of obesity, Social science quarterly, vol. 78

John Cawley (2004), The Impact of Obesity on Wages, J. Human Resources XXXIX (2):451-474

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