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Fat People Get Paid Less - New Spin

It's pretty common knowledge here at BFB that fat people get paid less than others in the workplace - particularly white women. There's a new article that's been floating about that basically reinforces the idea but, interestingly, twists it around to cover fat people who dieted. It then claims that fat people who diet get richer. Pretty bold, eh? So then what's this?

There's no way to tell from the data whether losing weight was the reason for the gain in wealth, but the linkage was definitely there, said Jay Zagorsky, author of the study and a research scientist at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research. [emphasis mine]

Really, WTF? If there's "no way to tell," how can the author say the linkage is there? I'm really curious about that.

Assuming the linkage is linky enough, the study took peoples' BMIs and net worths over a 15-year period and assessed where they stood. Black women and white men gained the most by losing weight (interesting on the black women), white women gained less, and black men were practically unaffected. Zagorsky, who insisted that "quite a bit" of weight had to be lost to have an effect, then came up with "ideal" BMIs:

White women had peak net worth at the low end of the normal range (BMI 20), white males and Black women reached peak net worth at the upper end of the normal range (BMI 24) and Black males peaked in the obese range (BMI 32).

Not too surprising, except perhaps the part about black men. White women are held to a higher standard of weight versus other groups, it seems, and this would seem to support that. The tail end of the article suggests that fat people are discriminated against (surprise!) in the workplace, and that's a possible explanation for the discrepancies. Sure it is.

The bottom line you should take from this article: fat people are still paid less. Dieting won't fix that. Changing the law will.

Campos on Krugman | The Insurance Dilemma & Brain-Dead Opinions

2DayIs4Me July 14th, 2005 | Link | The headline is also
The headline is also misleading. "Dieting linked to increased wealth, study finds" is not exactly what the study found. LARGE WEIGHT LOSS (10 BMI points) was linked to "increased wealth." The article remained silent about the large number of people (50 or 60 or 70% of all Americans) who engage in DIETING every year but do NOT lose "large amounts of weight." It clearly stated that "increased wealth" was only seen when large amounts of weight were actually lost, and was not seen when "only 5 or 10 lbs" were lost (the actual weight loss, if any, that results from MOST "dieting" attempts). Let's see, what percentage of dieters actually lose "large amounts of weight" and keep it off for any significant period of time? Some very tiny fraction as I recall. Ergo, it is probably not true that "dieting leads to increased wealth" for the vast majority of people. Its probably closer to the truth that MOST dieting leads to increased spending (and therefore decreased wealth) due to money spent on diet industry products, diet advice, diet pills and vitamins, etc., and increased health care costs due to the long term health problems caused by dieting (gallstones, osteoporosis, depression, muscle loss, kidney problems, heart problems, endocrine problems, just to name a few)
sjbrodwall July 14th, 2005 | Link | "Really, WTF? If there's "no
"Really, WTF? If there's "no way to tell," how can the author say the linkage is there? I'm really curious about that." Actually, for once, "There's no way to tell from the data whether losing weight was the reason for the gain in wealth, but the linkage was definitely there" is a responsible statement. Zagorsky is saying that he found a correlation between a large weight loss and increased wealth, but he cannot tell whether or not the weight loss caused the increase in wealth. <sarcasm>Perhaps the increase in wealth was caused by an increase in productivity, for example, 'cause everyone knows how lazy we fat people are, after all.</sarcasm> A link is one thing--whether or not we like it, fat is correlated with depression, diabetes, heart disease, low self esteem, etc., ad infinitum. I think most of us doubt that fat causes those problems, however. I'm actually grateful to see a researcher not jump from correlation to causation, like the majority who do research on fat do.
paul July 14th, 2005 | Link | Awesome, Sarah, thanks for
Awesome, Sarah, thanks for the explanation.
Panthera July 14th, 2005 | Link | I was thinking the same
I was thinking the same thing as 2Day. I completely failed to see how the research could be accurate considering cost of dieting, 15 years of inflation and...there are just so many factors when dealing with money. Someone who is 21 could still be in college and working at a fast food joint, but in another year, maybe two, suddenly working for a corporation and be on salary. The study included "home values, cash savings, stocks, bonds, and auto values, among other assets. Outstanding debts were subtracted from that total to arrive at net worth." What about inheritance? Marriage? Tragedies? The research has so many Xs left in the equation, the answer can't possibly be right.
Koneko July 14th, 2005 | Link | Panthera, they most likely
Panthera, they most likely controlled for all those factors. It would be pointless research otherwise, and most researchers prefer not to waste their time. Like sjbrodwall said, he's being responsible by saying there's a link but no proof of causation -- I doubt the guy ignored all the things you mention, the article just didn't go into it. Although it did mention: "The data in this study can't tell us whether a person's wealth affects obesity, or whether obesity affects wealth. However, Zagorsky said it is more likely that weight influences wealth. An analysis of people in the study who received inheritances -- suddenly increasing their wealth -- showed no dramatic changes in their BMI scores in the following years. This suggests that wealth does not have a strong influence on weight. However, if weight does affect wealth, there is also the question of how it does so. One possible explanation would be that overweight and obese people are discriminated against in the workforce, and don't earn as much money as normal weight people. Women, particularly white women, may be held to particularly high standards for beauty, which could explain why they gained more wealth compared to men as they lost more weight. But there is no way to tell for sure from this data, Zagorsky said." I suspect the research is correct. I know I've been advised over and over to lose weight if I want to have a better chance of being hired and, if hired, paid decently. I think the headline is irresponsible (as noted, dieting doesn't increase your chances for wealth, major weight loss does) and that it should have made the point more strongly that this implies discrimination, not that fat people should diet. But overall? This isn't a terribly bad one.
Midnight July 14th, 2005 | Link | I was about 190 lbs (also on
I was about 190 lbs (also on prednisone and crazy ugly) at the time I had interviews in law school. This is only anecdotal evidence of course, but I was unable to get hired by a private firm, despite above-average grades, loads of experience, etc. Never had a problem in the world with getting hired in public interest law. I do remember, however, that we were told to wear short skirts, not pants, for interviews. Obviously, at my then-weight and health, I wasn't looking too spiffy, so skirt length was really the least of my problems. (This is no comment on anyone else...the prednisone weight was very different from regular weight - distributed differently, differently textured, and so forth). I don't object at all to the results of this study. I think they're positive - at least in the sense that they highlight the incredible discrimination that heavier people face in the workplace. Even at my current company - writers/researches, fat; salespeople, thin. It's not an accident. At least someone is finally saying it, albeit in a backhanded way.
2DayIs4Me July 14th, 2005 | Link | Y'know, Paul ... you say,
Y'know, Paul ... you say, "The bottom line you should take from this article: fat people are still paid less. Dieting won't fix that. Changing the law will." But I'm not so sure that changing the law will fix it. My guess is that it would kind of work like age discrimination. Its illegal, of course, but unless you can come up with a smoking gun (almost impossible), such as an interviewer who hasn't yet been coached not to SAY, "we were looking for somebody younger," its impossible to prove and impossible to enforce. But it definitely still happens, and everybody KNOWS it does. HR departments run classes for interviewers and managers to teach them what not to SAY so that the company won't get sued for age discrimination ... but that doesn't make age discrimination go away. The change that's needed is in public attitude -- which you can't change by just changing the law.
paul July 14th, 2005 | Link | The change that's needed is
The change that's needed is in public attitude -- which you can't change by just changing the law. I do agree, but I also think that getting anti-size discrimination laws on the books is one of the most useful tools we can strive for.
vidyapriya July 14th, 2005 | Link | I agree with both the
I agree with both the 'public attitude' argument *and* the 'law' perspective. If you consider other major civil-rights movements in 20th-century North America, both were integral aspects of achieving rights and recognition for women, American-Americans/Canadians, First-Nations peoples, disabled people, etc. You need to 'win' a certain percentage of the population to your cause (luckly, a majority of us are already fat!), use public pressure to get the laws changed, and then throw the law-book at the would-be discriminators when necessary! While no one would claim that we've *eliminated* discrimination against other minority groups, a combination of more-enlightened attitudes, fear of legal consequences, and collective societal expectations of a non-discriminatory atmosphere helps!
thelmarose July 15th, 2005 | Link | It may not be merely that
It may not be merely that the workplace discriminates against fat and rewards slimness, but that people who have lost a lot of weight suddenly *feel* attractive and powerful, and start acting like it, and this affects their careers. In my early twenties, when through starvation and twice-a-day workouts I finally lost "those last ten pounds," I felt like nothing could hold me back. I felt I was smarter, sexier, and more capable than anyone around, and I was bursting with energy and enthusiasm. I was suitably rewarded in my career by my various bosses (all middle-aged white men). A dozen or so years later, when I accepted my fat self, I felt just as powerful and attractive, and I was also rewarded in my career. I think a lot has to do with how you carry yourself. This is not blame the victim (if you're fat and feel bad about yourself you won't be as successful), because society is making the fat person feel bad about herself. And it's not a magic bullet, as many will discriminate against a fat person no matter how talented or self-confident the person is. But it may be the psychological transformation of the people in the study as much as the weight loss itself that engendered the financial gain.
pani113 July 15th, 2005 | Link | I think that is a great
I think that is a great point ThelmaRose!!! Another factor might be that the some people who are motivated to lose weight tend to be conformists who also make extradinory efforts to fit in and people please in a variey of ways. On the other hand, people who resist tend to be free thinkers who are less likely to be molded into corporate clones. I also wonder if all the subjects started in the same social class or just had the same type of job. One does not necessarily imply the other. I don't assume the researchers automatically controlled for these things because I have seen too many sloppy studies. There can be many variables other than weight that affected the results of this study.
rebelle July 15th, 2005 | Link | This research proves nothing
This research proves nothing more than that weight prejudice is alive and well (imagine that!); in other words, there is a strong corporate discrimination against fat workers. Though, perhaps if more people, fat and thin, were positively encouraged to think and act like ThelmaRose, this could change.
bugj9 July 15th, 2005 | Link | I had lunch yesterday with a
I had lunch yesterday with a friend who had WLS a year ago. She's lost 150 pounds. (Offpoint - from size 36 to 16, and she still comments how fat she is!) Anyway, the relevant point is that she discussed her career. She said she feels more self-confident now. She's presenting before large groups, something she never would have done at the higher weight. She's willing to travel. She's applying to be hired into a different area, which will be a promotion and increase in wages. For her, less weight probably will contribute to greater wealth. Hers is only one person's experience, but it does seem to support ThelmaRose. After all, my friend has the same personality, skills, experience, etc. The only thing that has changed is her self-confidence. How sad to think she could have had this marvelous carrer all along if only she had had the courage to accept herself at 333 pounds. I believe Rebelle is correct - it would be awesome if people could have this attitude whether fat or thin. Maybe that really is the best part of BFB - encouraging self-respect and confidence in fat people by letting us meet and discuss safely and honestly. Though I don't post often I read every day, and BFB is very good for my self-esteem. Imagine millions of self-confident, refuse-to-take-your-crap fatties! That would truly change the world, not anti-discrimination laws.
Midnight July 15th, 2005 | Link | I agree that confidence
I agree that confidence probably matters to an extent. To be honest, though? People are much nicer to me now that I'm thinner. Everyone. From store clerks to employers to coworkers to my family. It's made a huge difference in how I've been treated. Prior to losing weight, I always dressed stylishly and wore full makeup, did my hair and nails. It's just different now, particularly with men. They're not asking me out, but they are holding doors. My male bosses are definitely nicer to me. I've always been good at my job and well-educated and confident about my work. Since I continue not to be confident about my body, I suppose that's irrelevent. So, in my opinion, it's probably a bit of both, but I would be disinclined to attribute any significant amount of differential treatment to differences in self confidence. Although, obviously, a hundred and fifty pounds of weight loss is different from 65 or so and might have more of an effect. As a sidenote: I always get a bit of a giggle here over what people consider thin and skinny. It's so different from the mainstream norms.
nwhiker July 16th, 2005 | Link | But Midnight, you assume
But Midnight, you assume that all the change is with *them*, that they are nicer to you now that you are thinner... You're assuming you've made no changes yourself. You definately -from this and other posts- appear to like yourself better thinner (I'm not criticising, btw) so maybe it's exactly what Thelmarose is saying: that because you feel better about yourself, you stand taller, walk more confidently and project that kind of image that gets doors opened for you. Again, I don't think these two things can be separated... actually, no. I bet they can. I'd like to see a study that shows what happens to people when they start a serious exercise program and get in shape, regardless of weight. Most of us feel more confident in ourselves when we are in shape... Anyhow.
Midnight July 17th, 2005 | Link | Possibly. All I can tell you
Possibly. All I can tell you is that I was a lot different then, but not in ways you'd notice walking through a door. I'm hardly taking on the world, but I'm not a size 4 either. I think men do respond on some level to my more-visible frailty. But I also think that they're more likely to view me as a sexual object. Do I want that power? No. But I have more of it now and that power translates into other types of power. It has been my experience that a lot of heavier people seem to overcompensate for their perceived flaw. Again, just my experience, but I've generally found that heavier people are more apt to play the overly-flexible, too-accommodating role. Which should make them more likely to be promoted, yet this is decidedly not the case. I think the point is that I'm picking up this odd current in places in this thread that people seem to be resisting the idea that weight might affect salary. However, in other threads, many have argued that the societal standard is rampant and unfair and that people are irredeemably biased. It's either discrimination or it isn't. The idea that the same prejudice one feels at the doctors spreads to the workplace doesn't seem far-fetched to me. Also, I wanted to say that I agree with the idea that legal changes are essential. If you look at any other civil rights movement - African-American, women, HIV-positive, pick your issue - a change in the legal structure has always come before a change in general attitudes. When you outlaw discrimination, it turns the person discriminating into someone acting against the law. Lawbreaking carries a social stigma that becomes a part of popular culture and makes it unacceptable to express discriminatory attitudes. When negative attitudes have no mainstream forum, they are more difficult to pass on, meaning that those who have those attitudes are less likely to express them and the next generation is less apt to actually HAVE those discriminatory attitudes. That's just one way that law helps, but there are many, many others. I think laws on the books are a crucial part of this struggle. (BTW, does fat acceptance have the equivalent of a LAMBA Legal or something like that? Just curious.)
nwhiker July 17th, 2005 | Link | Oh, I totally believe that
Oh, I totally believe that weight affects salary and I'm betting most people here do too. What I have a hard time beleiving is that the sole fact of losing weight ups salary, with people who already know you. I -and I think others here- am more of the opinion that it's not the weight loss per se but the change in attitude of the person who lost weight. Weight loss is a selfish pursuit, it means that you are single mindedly focussed on yourself and I think that for many people -women especially, and fat women even more so- the period of weight loss is one of the only ones when it's ok societally to be selfish and think about yourself and basically put yourself first. I think that this self involvement creates that less flexible less over-accomodating person... like, for example, I can be when I'm training for a bike ride or whatever: nothing, and I mean nothing, unless it's a bleeding kid, keeps me from getting my bike miles in! :-) People who are in a weigh loss phase of their life are going to be much more vocal about their needs. I don't know if I'm being clear here, about the difference in what I see.
pani113 July 17th, 2005 | Link | Well, I don't necessarily
Well, I don't necessarily see a contradiction between realizing that weight based salary discrimination exists, but pointing out potential mitigating factors as well. I like to critique such studies because I believe the press exagerates them to try and scare people into the hands of the diet industry - they co-opt them into marketing tools. I also firmly believe in both political action AND personal empowerment. So while I think it is good to do whatever we can at the political level, I also think people need to know its possible to beats the odds until social change occurs. It has been my personal experience that many other interpersonal dynamics besides weight come into play. Here is Chicago I know many people in many ranges of large who have very "normal" lives. I can think of a few woman right now who don't come close to Hollywoods definition of beauty, yet men flirt with them left and right. They just have "it," whatever "it" is. And the same goes with career success. I think one of the dangerous interpretations of the study for the general public is to see weight loss as another quick fix for career woes (the way we believe weight loss in the panacea for everything else) and ignore more important issues.

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