It pays to be thin

And if you’re a woman, it pays to be very thin.

We have posted before on how obese women have a far harder time climbing the career ladder than their slimmer female counterparts, while men actually improve their chances of reaching the corner office when they gain weight.

Now, a new study goes a step further by showing 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.

Author: has written 5267 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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66 Responses

  1. Ben
    Ben October 13, 2010 at 4:58 pm |

    The linked article (and the abstract linked thereto) don’t indicate that height was taken into account, which might partially account for the pay differential for men.

  2. Austin Nedved
    Austin Nedved October 13, 2010 at 5:20 pm |

    What’s so shocking about this is just how huge the pay gap is. Before I read this, I probably would have figured there was some sort of pay gap between thin and obese women, but fifteen thousand dollars a year more? That’s ridiculous!

  3. Jessica Isabel
    Jessica Isabel October 13, 2010 at 5:21 pm |

    I guess the thing that makes me wonder is, what do they consider to be average weight? Are they looking at a height-to-weight ratio? Because 207 is pretty average for a man who’s 6’2″ (my dad, for instance)..

    As in any type of intellectual discourse, I think it’d be better if they defined their terms.

  4. Austin Nedved
    Austin Nedved October 13, 2010 at 5:27 pm |

    Something happened to my first comment, so I’ll try again.

    It’s really surprising just how huge the gap is — over 15k a year. I figured there would be some pay gap between thin and obese women, but this is just ridiculous.

  5. Austin Nedved
    Austin Nedved October 13, 2010 at 5:30 pm |

    Something happened to my last comment, so I’ll try again.

    I’m surprised by how huge the pay gap is — over 15k a year! I would have figured that there would be some difference in earnings between thin and obese women, but this is just ridiculous.

  6. Lasciel
    Lasciel October 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm |

    Wait a minute. “25 pounds less than the group norm” but what IS the group norm? Being 25lbs less than the group norm doesn’t make you ‘very thin’ if the group norm is almost obese.

  7. Thomas
    Thomas October 13, 2010 at 6:37 pm |

    Not surprising and certainly not fair but does the study control for those professions where weight, athleticism and other aspects of body health impact one’s earning potential? It’s hardly a revelation that thinner female bartenders would make more than their colleagues that weighed more. The reciprocal would be true for most male athletes. Also, does the study address height as a factor?

  8. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. October 13, 2010 at 7:06 pm |

    Shocking…next we’ll learn that cis-gendered, conventionally-attractive, straight, white women earn more… :)

  9. Gold
    Gold October 13, 2010 at 7:07 pm |

    I think the result of this study may have more to do with demographics than with discrimination – though I am in no way saying that thin women aren’t looked upon more favorably than average to overweight women.

    Could it be that a thinner women is less likely to have had kids recently or ever? Women without children seem to have a better chance of climbing the corporate ladder, as having children is perceived as being anti-career.

    Also, men being fatter and more well paid would correspond with higher responsibility positions being generally given to middle aged men – a demographic that is much more likely to suffer from ‘middle age spread’.

    (I’m not saying that these positions of authority and good pay should be given to these groups, just that in my experience they seem to be – rightly or wrongly)

  10. Shoshie
    Shoshie October 13, 2010 at 7:46 pm |

    This is why I get upset when people claim that fat acceptance is just a bunch of rich women complaining about fashion.

    This shit is real. It is affecting people. It is affecting women most of all.

  11. Laurel
    Laurel October 13, 2010 at 8:30 pm |

    Do thin women earn more money, or do women with money have the resources needed to maintain dominant standards of beauty? I think it works both ways…

  12. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable October 13, 2010 at 9:58 pm |

    “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.”

    Or, more likely, thin women have higher self-esteem on average because it gets torn down less for something as ridiculous as weight. The average higher self-esteem lends itself to pursuing higher education and more prestigious positions. On top of thin-privilege once you get there.

    I’m not sure how they did this. If they controlled for education, work experience, and so on, then it is most likely straight weight discrimination. But barring that, this is a stark reminder of why we need to address fat-phobia.

  13. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable October 13, 2010 at 9:59 pm |

    *** Actually, if we didn’t bar that, it’s still a reminder of why we need to address fat-phobia. Sorry, I’m sleepy.

  14. clevelandlass
    clevelandlass October 13, 2010 at 11:25 pm |

    I can’t say I’m terribly suprised, but I think I’d like to know more details… like how did they determine what weight is normal? What career fields were studied? What about ethnicity/race? The scatter plot could be very telling. I’m definitely going to check this study out! Thanks for the heads up!

  15. porpita.porpita
    porpita.porpita October 14, 2010 at 1:55 am |

    You can download a copy of the original study from Timothy A. Judge’s website (http://www.timothy-judge.com/).

    In the paper, the author states that the average weights for men and women were 67kg (148 lb) and 51kg (112lb) kg, respectively. That seems really low to me. I’m guessing that these errors may have to do with the fact that weight was self-reported rather than measured.

    For women, 25kg less than the mean would be just 26kg (57lb)!!! When I looked more closely at the paper, I realized that these conclusions were based on extrapolations of the data, not on actual data themselves. The authors of the paper didn’t actually find any women that weighed 25kg less than the mean, they just found a bunch of women close to the mean, fit a trend curve, and then extrapolated from there. In reality, any woman weighing 57lb would likely be dead or seriously ill, and thus pulling in far LESS money than her avg. weight co-workers. This a good example of how extrapolation error can lead to clearly ridiculous results.

    What does appear to be true from this study is that weighing a bit more than average is correlated with slightly higher salaries in men, and slightly lower salaries in women. It is scientifically unsound to extrapolate these figures out very far beyond the bounds of the data set, however.

  16. Natalia
    Natalia October 14, 2010 at 2:33 am |

    I tend to be wary of studies like these, because they often strike me as dangerously vague. Even though I have no doubt that if one is considered conventionally attractive, one stands a chance to get paid more.

  17. Joe
    Joe October 14, 2010 at 8:13 am |

    There are probably other factors here too. Losing weight isn’t fun, so thinner women probably have better impulse control. Being healthier probably helps you earn more. People from lower social classes and nonwhites tend to be fatter.

    Not to say that discrimination couldn’t be a part of it.

  18. groggette
    groggette October 14, 2010 at 9:00 am |

    porpita, I can’t access the link you provided so I don’t know what it says there, but in the WSJ excerpt above it says 25 pounds, not kg. A lot more realistic!

  19. Jadey
    Jadey October 14, 2010 at 9:17 am |

    re: concerns about the study’s design

    I looked up the research and actually the range of control variables was quite extensive. For study 1, the control variables were “height, age, gender, marital status, children less than 16 years of age in the household, maternity leave, perceived health problems, smoking and drinking behavior, educational attainment, hours worked, self-esteem, tenure, job complexity, industry, and whether the individual worked in the civil service (public sector).”

    Study 2 also controlled for race (instead of nationality – this was the American sample), job training, spouse’s wages/salary, and for childhood socioeconomic status.

    These aren’t the full details of course, but the study is actually available to all in this case (PDF file): http://www.timothy-judge.com/Judge%20and%20Cable%20%28JAP%202010%29.pdf

    (Tracked down via GoogleScholar, which is actually pretty helpful sometimes, although certainly a lot of scholarly research requires subscriptions, sadly.)

    The only thing that is missing for me was a control of (particularly for men) weight due to muscle vs. weight due to fat, because they conceptualized “weight” as just weight in kg (easy for doing science, but tricky for getting at size/shape bias, because I would say most of us react to fatness based on a general appearance, which is only somewhat correlated with a very specific number on a scale, especially when you’re in the middlin’ range). For women, they’re violating the beauty standard either way, but for a man at 207lb, he could easily be very muscular as opposed to fat, and one of those body shapes is much more idealized than the other, so “weight” may be good for men, but not necessarily “fatness” (especially given that the protectiveness wears off as soon as they get to the scary “obese” level).

  20. Anriana
    Anriana October 14, 2010 at 9:19 am |

    porpita.porpita: You can download a copy of the original study from Timothy A. Judge’s website (http://www.timothy-judge.com/).In the paper, the author states that the average weights for men and women were 67kg (148 lb) and 51kg (112lb) kg, respectively.That seems really low to me.I’m guessing that these errors may have to do with the fact that weight was self-reported rather than measured.

    Yes, 112lbs is a very low average weight. Is this study composed entirely of people who are 5 feet tall?

  21. Jadey
    Jadey October 14, 2010 at 9:23 am |

    @ porpita.porpita

    You read the results more closely than I did! Thanks for summarizing here. Yes, it looks as though the researchers took their faith in their model a little too far, which is a terrible disservice to their work and their audiences. Statistical standards are not always equivalent to practical, meaningful standards. :(

  22. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 14, 2010 at 9:29 am |

    Shoshie: This is why I get upset when people claim that fat acceptance is just a bunch of rich women complaining about fashion.This shit is real.It is affecting people.It is affecting women most of all.  

    Yes, exactly. The Yale Rudd Center’s research actually backs this up.

    In comparable positions (since this was brought up as a concern), overweight people earn 1 to 6 percent less than non-overweight people, and obese women suffer more than obese men.

  23. Hel
    Hel October 14, 2010 at 9:30 am |

    “Could it be that a thinner women is less likely to have had kids recently or ever? ”
    Eh?
    Please explain this to me, because I don’t understand.

  24. Brett K
    Brett K October 14, 2010 at 9:43 am |

    @porpita.porpita: I haven’t had a chance to read the study just yet, but the quote in the OP states that women who earned 15k more weird 25 pounds, not kilos, less than the norm. Which is still extremely low, but not totally outside the realm of possibility, whereas an adult woman weighing 57lbs seems almost impossible to me. I mean, I weighed that much when I was 10, and I was fairly short and skinny.

    Having said that, I think you’re right about the averages being skewed by self-reporting, since both of those average weights seem really low. I don’t know why men would report such low weights, though, when our culture seems to punish men for being thin? It’s certainly an interesting study, but the collection and extrapolation of data are deeply flawed, to say the least.

  25. Lindsay
    Lindsay October 14, 2010 at 10:10 am |

    112 lbs would be borderline, if not outright, underweight for 5′. That’s my size (and lulz I am certainly heavier than 112 lbs) and according to the dubious BMI index, a healthy weight is somewhere right around 120. So in terms of height, I’d dip a little lower. Point taken, though!

    Anriana:
    Yes, 112lbs is a very low average weight. Is this study composed entirely of people who are 5 feet tall?  

  26. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable October 14, 2010 at 10:15 am |

    Hel: “Could it be that a thinner women is less likely to have had kids recently or ever? ”
    Eh?
    Please explain this to me, because I don’t understand.  

    Below a certain weight, it becomes next to biologically impossible to carry children. I’m 5’6 and COULD carry a kid if I were 112, but if I were 25 lbs lower than that, I probably couldn’t. I probably wouldn’t have my period at 87 pounds, let alone the health complications that would probably result in miscarriage if I did somehow get pregnant.

  27. bhuesca
    bhuesca October 14, 2010 at 10:35 am |

    @ 23 (Hel):

    I didn’t write it but I’ll take a crack at it. Perhaps thinner women haven’t or haven’t recently had children, and perhaps their earnings or earning potential is increased by this. Why?

    Here are just some ideas, OF COURSE not all is applicable to all or any.

    -discrimination
    -ability to finish higher education without worrying about costs of childcare. higher education generally = higher pay.
    -children take time. many parents work less hours after the birth of a child. generally, less hours worked = less pay.
    -children take time, 2. having a child may/will limit the hours of availability of said parent, especially things like last-minute overtime, sick child, school functions, maternity leave. in addition to the more hours=more pay, more availability sometimes=greater perceived loyalty to job. greater loyalty sometimes=greater chance of promotion=higher pay.
    -many, but not all, women I personally know have gained weight with the birth of a child. many, but not all, women I personally know have experienced difficulties if/when they chose to attempt to lose this weight and return to/around pre-baby size. So this, sometimes, means weight could be a good signifier of “have you given birth?” status.

    Is this right? Of course not. But it’s rather telling that this list took me ten seconds to compile…

  28. chingona
    chingona October 14, 2010 at 10:54 am |

    Well, and it’s pretty well established that most of the remaining pay gap between men and women is related to child-bearing. Women who are not married and have no children earn almost the same as men. Men tend to earn more as they have kids and women less.

    So a woman who has never had children might be thin, but her higher earning potential would be more related to her not being a mother than to her weight.

    That’s how I understood it.

    But it sounds like they tried to control for that, at least per Jadey.

  29. porpita.porpita
    porpita.porpita October 14, 2010 at 10:55 am |

    groggette: porpita, I can’t access the link you provided so I don’t know what it says there, but in the WSJ excerpt above it says 25 pounds, not kg. A lot more realistic!  

    The Wall Street Journal blog (‘The Juggle’) that cited this article quoted it incorrectly. All the measures in the paper are in kg and in one figure they extrapolate their results out +/- 25 kg.

  30. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe October 14, 2010 at 10:56 am |

    In one study, the highest pay point, on average, was reached for guys who weighed a strapping 207 pounds.

    Just 20 pounds between me and that raise!

  31. porpita.porpita
    porpita.porpita October 14, 2010 at 11:01 am |

    Anriana:
    Yes, 112lbs is a very low average weight. Is this study composed entirely of people who are 5 feet tall?  

    The mean height (which was also self-reported) for both men and women was 173 cm (about 5 ft 5 in). Weirdly, they do not tell us what the values are for men and women separately. And, as flawed as the BMI calculation is, one would think that they would do something to control for the fact that one weight could be considered overweight or underweight depending on a person’s height.

  32. Killerchick
    Killerchick October 14, 2010 at 11:16 am |

    @ Joe:

    Did you really mean to say this?:

    “Losing weight isn’t fun, so thinner women probably have better impulse control.”

    My impression was that the Feministe community was not open to such bigoted, stereotypical discourse as the idea that thinner women are more disciplined/ hard-working than fatter women? My larger female colleagues have to fight against these kinds of perceptions all the time. Pity they have to combat this sort of thinking on feminist blogs too…

  33. Hel
    Hel October 14, 2010 at 11:50 am |

    Ok, now it makes more sense.

  34. Shoshie
    Shoshie October 14, 2010 at 11:57 am |

    In the paper, they say that they controlled for:
    height
    age
    marital status
    having children under 16
    maternity/paternity leave
    overall health
    drinking
    smoking
    hours worked
    education
    seniority
    training and job characteristics
    self-esteem
    industry
    whether the individual was a German native (in Germany study)
    employment in civil service

    Interestingly, they did not control for having children at all. But, my guess is, that the number of people in the work force who have never had children is not big enough to account for the trend. But it’s possible.

  35. umami
    umami October 14, 2010 at 12:56 pm |

    It’s one of my pet peeves when someone mentions the headline result of a study and then a bunch of people in the comments below start with the “correlation isn’t causation, you know” and list possible control variables.
    Because if you can come up with a potential control variable off the top of your head after five seconds’ thought, it’s almost guaranteed that a professional who’s spent a couple of years working on the study is also going to have thought of it.
    After a very quick read of the comments and the relevant paragraphs of the paper, it seems like the authors have controlled for pretty much all of this stuff!

    Also the average weight for a female participant in the German study was 146lb not 112lb.

  36. umami
    umami October 14, 2010 at 1:14 pm |

    Addendum to my previous comment: I just found the section of the paper where porpita took the averages from. It is astoundlingly poorly worded so I can definitely see how the confusion arose– I would have interpreted it the same way if I hadn’t seen the other figures first–but the numbers quoted by porpita seem to be exactly 15kg below the average weights for men and women.

  37. Alison
    Alison October 14, 2010 at 3:35 pm |

    Lindsay: 112 lbs would be borderline, if not outright, underweight for 5′.That’s my size (and lulz I am certainly heavier than 112 lbs) and according to the dubious BMI index, a healthy weight is somewhere right around 120. So in terms of height, I’d dip a little lower.Point taken, though!

    Lindsay, not sure where you’re getting your data, but at 5’0″ and 112, the BMI would be 21.9, which is right in the middle of “healthy” or whatever. It’s far from “borderline if not outright underweight”.

  38. C
    C October 14, 2010 at 5:42 pm |

    PrettyAmiable:
    Below a certain weight, it becomes next to biologically impossible to carry children. I’m 5′6 and COULD carry a kid if I were 112, but if I were 25 lbs lower than that, I probably couldn’t. I probably wouldn’t have my period at 87 pounds, let alone the health complications that would probably result in miscarriage if I did somehow get pregnant.

    As a 5’5 93 lb mother who has never missed a period, I am going to have to disagree with this unsupported medical assessment =)
    As much as the feminist community likes to fight body-policing-shrouded-as-science from being spread about heavier women’s bodies, it would be nice for the same consideration to be shown in regards to thin women’s bodies. Malnutrition and thinness are not synonymous.

  39. porpita.porpita
    porpita.porpita October 14, 2010 at 5:47 pm |

    umami: Addendum to my previous comment: I just found the section of the paper where porpita took the averages from. It is astoundlingly poorly worded so I can definitely see how the confusion arose– I would have interpreted it the same way if I hadn’t seen the other figures first–but the numbers quoted by porpita seem to be exactly 15kg below the average weights for men and women.  

    Thank you! It was really confusing: “we standardized weight such that the weight is expressed on the x-axis as a deviation from each group’s average (e.g., –15 represents 15 kg below the average weight for each gender [for women, the average was 51 kg; for men, the average was 67 kg]).”

  40. porpita.porpita
    porpita.porpita October 14, 2010 at 5:59 pm |

    Sorry about my earlier comments about height/weight! Here are the actual mean values:
    Men — 178.86 cm tall (5 ft, 10 in.), 82.67 kg (182.26 lbs)
    Women — 166.33 cm tall (5 ft, 5 in.), 66.29 kg (146.14 lbs)
    So much more reasonable!

    This means they only extrapolated the data out to ~91lbs, which seems thin, but not outside the realm of possibility.

    Also, the authors have a really nice footnote about their decision to estimate the effects of weight and height separately rather than confounding the two using BMI.

    Please forgive my premature comments on the paper!! In retrospect, it seems like a pretty good study … although I still think it is unfortunate that all of the stats are self-reported.

  41. Alison
    Alison October 14, 2010 at 6:07 pm |

    C:
    As a 5′5 93 lb mother who has never missed a period, I am going to have to disagree with this unsupported medical assessment =)
    As much as the feminist community likes to fight body-policing-shrouded-as-science from being spread about heavier women’s bodies, it would be nice for the same consideration to be shown in regards to thin women’s bodies. Malnutrition and thinness are not synonymous.  

    Not synonymous, true, but I have a feeling you’re an outlier, C. 5’5″ and 93 is definitely underweight as far as BMI and such goes, and the majority of women with those stats would likely not be menstruating. I’m 5’1″ and 93 and my period stopped (both now and once before, a few years ago) when I hit around 97 or so. It is common when one hits the “underweight” section of the chart for amenorrhea to kick in.

  42. PM
    PM October 14, 2010 at 6:10 pm |

    umami: It’s one of my pet peeves when someone mentions the headline result of a study and then a bunch of people in the comments below start with the “correlation isn’t causation, you know” and list possible control variables.Because if you can come up with a potential control variable off the top of your head after five seconds’ thought, it’s almost guaranteed that a professional who’s spent a couple of years working on the study is also going to have thought of it.(Quote this comment?)

    Why? Do you remember the story about lesbian couples being better parents than heterosexual ones? Read it, it’s trash that got picked up by the media because it’s provocative.

  43. PM
    PM October 14, 2010 at 6:12 pm |

    Just because a study agrees with my worldview (and the lesbian mothers one didn’t, as all the studies I’ve seen show that gay men and lesbians parent equally as well as, but not better than, heterosexual couples) doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take a look at it. Even if it’s for no other reason than the fact that journalists tend to be terrible at reporting on scienctific research.

  44. Miss S
    Miss S October 14, 2010 at 6:36 pm |

    “Could it be that a thinner women is less likely to have had kids recently or ever? ”
    Eh?
    Please explain this to me, because I don’t understand.

    I think the commenter means that right after bearing children, women weigh more than they did before pregnancy. Some women lose the weight quickly, while others don’t.
    Women with children are often discriminated against in the workplace and put on the ‘mommy track’ where they are less likely to receive promotions, pay raises, etc. They might take time out of the workforce, which results in lower wages.

    If many of the women who were in their ‘above average weight’ category also have children, they could have lower salaries as a result of the children.

  45. Miss S
    Miss S October 14, 2010 at 6:47 pm |

    Also, I’m slightly over 5 feet tall, and when I was 112, I wasn’t severely underweight. I’m not sure what the average is supposed to be for 5 feet, but I’m about 124 now and the doctor says it’s fine. I didn’t even know people still went by that chart.

    Not really off topic- one of my best friends is going into the medical field and she said that some medical professionals were pushing to have a seperate height/weight chart for women of color, specifically black women. According to some, women of african descent will tend to have more weight/fat on their frame, naturally.

    I don’t know if anything was done with that, because my best friend told me this a couple of years ago. I don’t know how much truth there is to it. I know the women in my family do seem to have built in curves and when I weighed 112 in high school I was still ‘thick’ (with a round butt), but this is clearly not a scientific observation. :)
    Does anyone know more about this?

  46. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable October 14, 2010 at 7:00 pm |

    Oh, I’m sorry, C. Next time, I’ll explain that when I hit 105, my period stopped and explain that my doctor pointed out that this was a result of weight and not a lack of nutrients (that is, I was taking a daily vitamin, so it probs wasn’t that). Obviously I need to substantiate with my own experience to make a true statement sound substantiated. Apparently, if people were concerned with my statement, they could not google this themselves to find this website: http://www.knowyourperiod.com/cycle_main.htm
    .
    Also, I wasn’t body policing. I didn’t say “your body is gross” or “you’re malnourished and unhealthy” or “gain some weight.” Incidentally, there’s nothing wrong with not having a period if you don’t want to – I’m taking BC specifically to avoid it. Please don’t apply the phrase “body policing” to any comment that talks about bodily functions, especially given that I believe none of these things, being a thin woman myself. I also said “next to impossible” – meaning that there wasn’t 0 chance, thus not erasing women who are my height and 87 lbs with child without birthing complications. I didn’t even erase the outliers.

    Oh noez. It’s a feminist blog! Can’t talk about how sometimes low weight women don’t have periods.

  47. Katie
    Katie October 14, 2010 at 7:07 pm |

    Alison:
    Not synonymous, true, but I have a feeling you’re an outlier, C. 5′5″ and 93 is definitely underweight as far as BMI and such goes, and the majority of women with those stats would likely not be menstruating. I’m 5′1″ and 93 and my period stopped (both now and once before, a few years ago) when I hit around 97 or so. It is common when one hits the “underweight” section of the chart for amenorrhea to kick in.  

    That really does depend on why you’re in the “underweight” section of the chart. Count me as another outlier — the only time I ever had amenorrhea was due to medication that also made me gain 25 pounds and leave the underweight zone for the first time in decades. Amenorrha in underweight women is not usually directly tied to weight, but to the percentage of body fat and general state of nutrition. For an underweight person who is as out of shape and eats no worse than most of the US, neither of those is typically an issue.

  48. Gold
    Gold October 14, 2010 at 7:26 pm |

    bhuesca: @ 23 (Hel):I didn’t write it but I’ll take a crack at it. Perhaps thinner women haven’t or haven’t recently had children, and perhaps their earnings or earning potential is increased by this. Why? Here are just some ideas, OF COURSE not all is applicable to all or any.-discrimination-ability to finish higher education without worrying about costs of childcare. higher education generally = higher pay.-children take time. many parents work less hours after the birth of a child. generally, less hours worked = less pay.-children take time, 2. having a child may/will limit the hours of availability of said parent, especially things like last-minute overtime, sick child, school functions, maternity leave. in addition to the more hours=more pay, more availability sometimes=greater perceived loyalty to job. greater loyalty sometimes=greater chance of promotion=higher pay.-many, but not all, women I personally know have gained weight with the birth of a child. many, but not all, women I personally know have experienced difficulties if/when they chose to attempt to lose this weight and return to/around pre-baby size. So this, sometimes, means weight could be a good signifier of “have you given birth?” status. Is this right? Of course not. But it’s rather telling that this list took me ten seconds to compile…  (Quote this comment?)

    Thanks for answering Hels questions, which she asked about something I posted. Your answer was what I was getting at, but failing to say clearly in my original post.

  49. sannanina
    sannanina October 15, 2010 at 4:33 am |

    Joe: There are probably other factors here too. Losing weight isn’t fun, so thinner women probably have better impulse control.   

    I do think a lot of people make this assumption and that the assumption itself might explain part of the pay gap. But there are several things that speak against the truth of that idea.

    1.) As illustrated by the replies of some naturally thin women above, “normal” weight clearly does not mean the same for each person. Although it is hard to say how much diet and exercise contribute to weight one thing is very clear: Weight also depends on genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors that cannot be controlled by the individual. As a result, many thin women are not thin because of better impulse control but because their bodies do not gain weight easily.

    2.) Impulse control or self-control is actually a limited resource. Yes, levels of self-control vary among different people. Also, self-control can be increased by “training”. And yet, using a lot of self-control for maintaining a body weight below the weight you settle at if you do not restrict caloric intake but eat according to internal cues means that you will have less self-control in other areas of life. For example, this is a quote from the abstract of a study by Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, and Tice (1998):

    Choice, active response, self-regulation, and other volition may all draw on a common inner resource. In Experiment 1, people who forced themselves to eat radishes instead of tempting chocolates subsequently quit faster on unsolvable puzzles than people who had not had to exert self-control over eating.

    3.) There is also evidence that people are worse at solving cognitive tasks while dieting, which makes it unlikely that people restricting caloric intake chronically (and weight-maintenance does require continued caloric restriction, see this for an example) are actually performing better at their jobs:

    15 Ss who reported that they were currently dieting to lose weight displayed impaired performance on a vigilance task and also tended to show poorer immediate memory and longer reaction times (RTs). (Green, Rogers, Elliman, & Gatenby, 1994)

    Dieters performed more poorly than non-dieters on all central executive measures except random generation. These dieting-related differences were most evident on moderately complex trials, and were partially mediated by preoccupying thoughts about food, weight and body shape, but not by BMI or depressed affect. It was concluded that weight-loss dieting has a relatively global impact on central executive functioning and thus has wide-ranging cognitive consequences. (Kemps, Tiggemann, & Marshall, 2005)

    Conclusion: Dieting to lose weight selectively impairs central executive functioning, rather than the storage capacity of the two slave systems. This dieting-related central executive deficit is at best partly attributable to the preoccupying thoughts about food, weight, and body shape accompanying dieting. (Kemps & Tiggemann, 2005)

    Interestingly, these studies (and others) suggest, that reduced cognitive performance while dieting/ restricting caloric intake is a result of preoccupation with food, not a direct result of reduced availability of energy. (Note, however, that there are other findings that self-control can be increased by raising blood-glucose levels). Theoretically it is therefore possible that people who are thin because of permanent caloric restriction somehow manage to be less occupied with food related thoughts than people who are not successful at permanent caloric restriction; based on personal experience, however, I very much doubt that.

    4.) There actually has been at least one study investigating if negative stereotypes of fat employees are correct. One of the stereotypes investigated was that fat employees are less conscientious – something that is directly related to performance and could be related to impulse/ self-control. The study found that this stereotype does not seem to be true (Roehling, Roehling, & Odland, 2008)

  50. Katie
    Katie October 15, 2010 at 9:57 am |

    PrettyAmiable: Oh, I’m sorry, C. Next time, I’ll explain that when I hit 105, my period stopped and explain that my doctor pointed out that this was a result of weight and not a lack of nutrients (that is, I was taking a daily vitamin, so it probs wasn’t that). Obviously I need to substantiate with my own experience to make a true statement sound substantiated. Apparently, if people were concerned with my statement, they could not google this themselves to find this website: http://www.knowyourperiod.com/cycle_main.htm.
    Also, I wasn’t body policing. I didn’t say “your body is gross” or “you’re malnourished and unhealthy” or “gain some weight.” Incidentally, there’s nothing wrong with not having a period if you don’t want to – I’m taking BC specifically to avoid it. Please don’t apply the phrase “body policing” to any comment that talks about bodily functions, especially given that I believe none of these things, being a thin woman myself. I also said “next to impossible” – meaning that there wasn’t 0 chance, thus not erasing women who are my height and 87 lbs with child without birthing complications. I didn’t even erase the outliers.
    Oh noez. It’s a feminist blog! Can’t talk about how sometimes low weight women don’t have periods.  

    Yes, very thin women will sometimes lose their period. I have apparently misstated earlier in stating that this is a body fat issue, as this is the explained that has always been given. Apparently newer research is starting to indicate that most (non-drug induced) amenorrhea likely has nothing to do with body mass or body fat. The hormone regulation issues are instead directly caused by calorie restriction and exercise.

    I don’t believe that anyone is upset with you for pointing out that there is a correlation here (although apparently not a causation). What I am upset about, and I suspect others are, is that you are categorizing your experience as the norm, and everyone else as “outliers”, without any real cause to do so as far as I can see. Why is it that your experience is the norm and not mine, my mother’s, or C’s?

  51. danielle
    danielle October 15, 2010 at 10:28 am |

    In re the debate over whether this disparity is caused by ever having children, the study controls for this by using a pretty reasonable proxy:number of children in the household under 18. So while some of this will be skewed by adoptive/foster parents or other caretaking arrangements, it’s pretty safe to say that this gap persists even when we take children out of the equation.

    Further, it’s even more compelling, if you think about it. Since women who did not give birth and therefore are not subject to the weight-related issues others were speculating about, they’re still probably facing many of the same issues from non-family friendly workplaces/mommy track issues. And yet, we still see a gap-in fact, this suggests the gap is bigger than calculated. Which really wouldn’t surprise me at all.

  52. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable October 15, 2010 at 10:39 am |

    Okay.

    You find me a doctor who will rubber stamp the following statement:

    “Women who are 5’6 and 87 lbs are equally likely to experience amenorrhea as women who are 5’6 and 120 lbs, all else (that is, nutrition) equal.”

    I haven’t found one.

  53. Katie
    Katie October 15, 2010 at 12:50 pm |

    PrettyAmiable: Okay.You find me a doctor who will rubber stamp the following statement:“Women who are 5′6 and 87 lbs are equally likely to experience amenorrhea as women who are 5′6 and 120 lbs, all else (that is, nutrition) equal.”I haven’t found one.  

    .

    Because doctors know everything, right? Particularly when it comes to women’s health and weight.

    Interestingly enough, the only time I have ever had amenorrhea was 5’4″ and 120-125 pounds. I started my period around 30 pounds lighter than that.

    My argument, PrettyAmiable, is not that your experiences are invalid. It is only that saying “your experiences are so outside the norm that they are statistically irrelevant” (which is what an outlier is) is rather rude when all you have is your own experience to go on. Your experiences and my experiences are JUST as valid.

    Given the listed causes of amenorrhea, if we assume the 87 pound woman is eating properly and not exercising excessively, she has 1 potential cause of 17 listed by the mayoclinic (which mentions that the body weight is low enough to interrupt other hormonal functions as well). If the low body weight is caused by excessive exercise, she has 2.

    That leaves 15-16 other causes of amenorrhea for the 120 pound woman to be suffering from, and depending on the research you are looking at she still might be vulnerable to amenorrhea caused by “low body weight”*

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/amenorrhea/DS00581/DSECTION=causes

    *There’s also some new research that is starting to show that the hormonal imbalance might not be caused by the low body weight it’s self, but by the rapid loss of weight. http://www.thinkmuscle.com/articles/volk/menstrual-cycle.htm

  54. Shoshie
    Shoshie October 15, 2010 at 1:47 pm |

    PrettyAmiable-
    I understand what you’re trying to say, but I think it’s prudent to avoid universalizing our bodies. My body started having serious nutritional deficiency problems when I weighed 175 lbs. Including dis/amenhorria. I’m not going to say that that’s the case for most people or start making judgements about what happens to other people’s bodies at that weight. To be fair, I am a statistical outlier. I’m frequently the fattest woman in the room. But there are still millions of people on all parts of the spectrum, and I don’t think it’s useful to ignore them.

  55. piny
    piny October 15, 2010 at 3:34 pm |

    There are probably other factors here too. Losing weight isn’t fun, so thinner women probably have better impulse control.

    Fuck you.

    Oh, shit, I’m sorry. The fat just goes off sometimes.

    The causal relationship between dieting and thinness is much less well-supported than the one between fatness and wage discrimination. Thin women may well have less experience with impulse-control regimens that involve self-starvation because they have less experience with coercive dieting. Why would they diet? They are thin. Really, I have no idea. I’m not a statistician. This is just me speculating, based on what I see around me.

    More importantly, a refusal to starve oneself for the sake of possible weight loss has little potential bearing on one’s determination, concentration, or general work ethic. Fat people are not lazy slobs. They are not fuckups. They are not bad employees. Fat women are definitely not lazier slobs than fat-but-not-obese men, who by this data and your interpretive logic would be professional dynamos.

  56. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 15, 2010 at 3:40 pm |

    Fuck you.

    Oh, shit, I’m sorry. The fat just goes off sometimes.

    Goddamn I love you, Piny.

  57. Lauren
    Lauren October 15, 2010 at 3:48 pm | *

    Fuck you.

    Oh, shit, I’m sorry. The fat just goes off sometimes.

    I loled.

  58. Becky
    Becky October 15, 2010 at 4:38 pm |

    Is it a mistake in the quote, or do 25 lbs thinner women really earn almost $30000 more than 25 lbs heavier women?
    $13,847 less than an average-weight female……$15,572 a year more than women of normal weight

    I would drop the weight for that kind of coin.

  59. piny
    piny October 15, 2010 at 6:32 pm |

    A lot of people would do a lot of things for that money. The justice of expecting people to be thinner in order to be compensated for their work at competitive rates is one issue.

    Another is that your weight simply isn’t up to you. In order to drop twenty-five pounds, I would have to starve myself. I don’t mean restrict my food choices or eat fewer sweets or become very athletic. I mean starve myself. Permanently. I am about as thin as I can reasonably be. I am not a skinny person. (Full disclosure: I’m not overweight–although I might be in the overweight BMI category!) That seems to be true of most people, including people in the official “overweight” and “obese” categories. Even fashion models, who are pre-selected from an outlier bracket of extremely thin young women, have to starve themselves to illness in order to maintain industry figures–then they’re airbrushed.

    You’d think this would be self-evident by now. Fat people are treated like shit all the time. The pressure to lose weight is ubiquitous. Most people, thin and fat, constantly try to become thinner. If it were possible, it would happen.

  60. zuzu
    zuzu October 16, 2010 at 12:45 am |

    Becky, that $30,000 spread can be the result of many years of lower starting salaries and lower raises for the fat women and higher starting salaries and higher raises (and perhaps even more opportunities to move into higher-paying positions elsewhere) of very thin women. There may also be a reluctance on the part of the fat women to ask for more, both when negotiating starting salary and when asking for a raise. That sort of thing adds up over time.

    The same dynamic is in play when men will routinely ask for and get higher starting salaries and raises and women will just accept what’s offered and not negotiate. I read recently that that can add up to $500,000 over the course of a career.

  61. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable October 16, 2010 at 9:46 am |

    Shoshie: I understand what you’re trying to say, but I think it’s prudent to avoid universalizing our bodies.

    No where did I speak in absolutes. It’s like if I said women, after controlling for all other factors (time off for children, work experience, and so on), are likely to be making less than men. …Then having a woman say, “but I actually make more than all the men in my department so you shouldn’t make that statement.” It’s a generalization, and if it doesn’t apply to you, then it doesn’t apply to you. It does apply to most women described. BFD.

    It’s not a generalization that applies a stigma to a vast group of people (i.e. women should have periods and extremely thin women don’t so they are gross ewww —- that was NEVER said or implied). That would be a horrible and disgusting thing to say, but it’s not what I said at all. Extremely thin women, if extremely thin for an extended period of time, are less likely to have biological children than women of other weights first because of the period issue and second because of the difficulty of carrying a child to term. That’s all.

  62. piny
    piny October 16, 2010 at 12:04 pm |

    I agree with your definition of where the money comes from, Zuzu. I agree that confidence is probably a contributing factor in professional relationships–although I’d be surprised if a lot of it weren’t just straight hiring and promotion discrimination against fat people.

    But it’s not as simple as demanding more money. If your boss thinks you deserve inferior compensation because you are inferior, there are consequences for resisting. Jeanine is a cranky ungrateful bitch with unrealistic expectations; Melissa is a go-getter who has contributed a lot to this company. Who gets dumped in the first round of layoffs?

  63. zuzu
    zuzu October 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm |

    Oh, absolutely; I was giving a greatly simplified explanation for how there can be that big a spread. And it’s all compounded by the secrecy surrounding salaries (which is how Lily Ledbetter never knew she made so much less than her male counterparts). That secrecy provides cover for pay discrimination on whatever basis.

    piny: I agree with your definition of where the money comes from, Zuzu. I agree that confidence is probably a contributing factor in professional relationships–although I’d be surprised if a lot of it weren’t just straight hiring and promotion discrimination against fat people.But it’s not as simple as demanding more money.If your boss thinks you deserve inferior compensation because you are inferior, there are consequences for resisting.Jeanine is a cranky ungrateful bitch with unrealistic expectations; Melissa is a go-getter who has contributed a lot to this company.Who gets dumped in the first round of layoffs?  

  64. How to make yourself memorable, or things I learned from my dog « desideratum

    [...] to make judgments based on physical appearance.  Studies show that if you’re a woman, it pays to be thin, although in the workplace these days even men can’t escape certain personal grooming [...]

  65. neeb
    neeb October 28, 2010 at 6:01 pm |

    Jessica Isabel: I guess the thing that makes me wonder is, what do they consider to be average weight? Are they looking at a height-to-weight ratio? Because 207 is pretty average for a man who’s 6′2″ (my dad, for instance).. As in any type of intellectual discourse, I think it’d be better if they defined their terms.  (Quote this comment?)

    Agreed. This is almost too vague to even call a study. If you were to turn in a paper on this topic explaining exactly what is explained above, you wouldn’t even deserve a passing grade.

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