When it comes to paychecks, body size matters

By Amelia Rayno
Saturday, January 29, 2011; 12:00 AM

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's an endless cultural lesson that's been drilled into our heads since we were tots, watching cartoons such as "The Flintstones" and playing with Barbie and Ken dolls: If you are a woman, you should be extremely thin; if you are a man, you should be big and strong.

And while we've grown accustomed to research finding that such stereotypes play out in the workplace -- overweight and obese women, for example, have a harder time ascending the career staircase -- a recent study has found that a worker's girth can have an appreciable impact on the size of his or her paycheck.

The study found that thin women are paid significantly more than their average-size counterparts, while heavier women make less. Skinnier-than-average men, on the other hand, cash smaller paychecks than their average-weight peers.

Experts say it's just another sign that as a society, we've internalized the unrealistic, media-driven physical ideals that show up in the workplace -- and therefore the pocketbook.

"Employers don't purposely think of these things when they're evaluating a person," said Teresa Rothausen-Vange, a management professor at the University of St. Thomas, who was not involved in the research.

"They don't say 'Okay, this woman is skinny, I'm going to give her a raise.' But research has shown that if you have two resumes, if all other qualifications make the candidates equal, the more physically attractive one -- whether it's a skinny woman or a muscly man -- will have the leg up."

In general, she said, people have subconscious reactions to different body types. For a man, skinny says less-than-manly, clashing with our vision of a leader: tall, strong and emotionally unmoved. For women, an ultra-thin figure simply says success and makes for an attractive corporate image, she said.

The pounds add up

The pounds -- whether more or less -- add up in terms of dollars, according to the study, "When It Comes to Pay, Do the Thin Win? The Effect of Weight on Pay for Men and Women," published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in the fall.

Being thin paid off in a big way for women, earning them about $16,000 more a year, on average. But thin men made about $8,000 less than their male co-workers.

The researchers, Timothy Judge and Daniel Cable, say that much of the problem is the result of subconscious decisions based on entrenched social stereotypes.

Their report cites studies in which obese individuals were identified as "undisciplined, dishonest and less likely to do productive work."

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