Packing a few extra pounds can hurt a woman's salary and even her ability to get a job, mounting research shows. Yet while women tend to get penalized by the pound, men don't, and perhaps they even gain from girth. The effect has been found in the United States and elsewhere.
Using data collected in Iceland, one new study examined the association between excess weight and employment. The study found a slightly negative correlation between weight and the employment rate of women, and a slightly positive correlation for men. The results were published in the March issue of the journal Elsevier's Economics and Human Biology.
Iceland was selected because it has the greatest level of gender equality in terms of health, education, business opportunities and political participation, according to a World Economic Forum study of 134 countries.
A 2009 study in the United States, which then ranked 31st in terms of gender equality, also found weight can be a drag on a woman’s earnings.
"There does seem to be a penalty for women," said University of Michigan professor Edward Norton, who conducted that study. Overweight women "seem to be paid less."
No heavy penalty for men
As was the case in Iceland, Norton said his study suggested the same penalties were not imposed on overweight men. "The general finding is that there is not much effect for men," he said. "If anything, larger men were paid more."
Norton added he's not surprised that the results of the Icelandic survey were so similar to his. "There is something in western society that seems to penalize women for being overweight," he said.