Thinner Women Earn More Money, Study Says

Just last week, I wrote a piece about how despite the growing numbers of women in higher education, overweight women are less likely to finish college.  Now, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and covered by Time shows that for women, weight can also play a major role in women’s professional success.  According to the study, women who are “very thin” earn a shocking $22,000 more than the “average weight counterparts.”  And not only were women of average weight affected by this disturbing finding, overweight women were punished even more severely.

When broken down, the study showed that weight matters far more for women than it does for men.  It also shows that while “very thin” women benefit the most (“thin” women earn $7,000 more than average women, $15,000 less than “very thin” women), that they are penalized the most harshly for the first few pounds of weight gain.  Indeed, once women reached an average weight, the study found that negative effects related to weight gain eased.  The researchers hypothesized that this was because women had already “violated” the norm of feminine body image.

According to the researchers, “Our results suggest that both German and American societies reward women who conform to the improbably thin female standard perpetuated by the media and mete out the stiffest punishments for the initial ‘rebellion’ from this standard.”

Depressed already?  I certainly am.  The researchers suggest that “it may be possible and competitively advantageous for employers to try and recognize — and then reduce — the role that weight plays in their employment decisions.”  But this may be easier said than done, especially since, thanks to the wage gap, women already earn significantly less than men.

But this study also reveals just how precarious our ideals of beauty are.  Even though “very thin” (according to this horribly skewed scale, “normal”) women are rewarded for conforming to a limited vision of what women’s bodies should be, they are also under just as much, if not more, scrutiny than other women.  In other words, women just can’t seem to win, even if all they eat are the “healthy salads made with local, organic products” that Forbes blogger Lisa Quast cheerfully says she’ll prepare at the end of her piece on these depressing new findings.


Photo from Pinksherbet's Flickr photostream.


Sarah M.
Sarah M6 years ago

This is very depressing and infuriating.

Carole Rousis
Carole R6 years ago

Weight should not be a factor. If the woman can do the job, and meets other requirements for employment, she should get the job.

Sheri P.
Sheri P6 years ago

Why am I not surprised? In this country thin has usually been equated with beauty and we all know beauty makes more money than ugly. Our society is so superficial, it's ridiculous.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G6 years ago

That's strong! Claiming causality between weight and monetary wealth! HUMBUG!!!

Alexis Lee
Alexis L6 years ago

I agree with Will W about the possible confusion between causation and correlation, but I think we should be aware of our own socially constructed bias to equate "beauty," defined today by extreme thinness, with goodness. I've seen both sides of the spectrum, and noticed a huge difference in the way both men and women treated me when I was heavier. People are much more polite and friendly to a thinner woman than they are to an overweight one. And in my case, being very thin did not equal confidence. I feel confident when at a healthy weight, and emotionally wretched at either extreme.

Carmen Harris
Carmen Harris6 years ago

I'm considered thin (not very thin) and small boned. I'm not earning more than other women. I would say I'm earning less than some women. I believe employers are picky in who they employ, not just in weight, but in outlook, goals, manner, etc. Considering this, and knowing how I am (I'm not a white sheep that follows what everyone is doing), in my opinion, employers are just picky. I don't believe in looking good for other people (ie. wearing make up) or dressing correctly (how a woman 'should' be dressed, ie. heels, skirts, tops made for women, etc.). I probably have an outlook that doesn't appeal to the majority either. So yes, employers are definitely picky...

Emily W.
Emily W.6 years ago

It always depends upon field you are in. If your in bussiness women who are thinner and wear make-up are more likely to get promoted because their clients are more likely to feel comfortable with them.

But if the woman worked as an enginner or in another department that is traditionally male dominated, being too thin or wearing make-up can actually decrease your chances of being hired or being promoted.

It honestly depends. BUt the psychology makes sense: If you are more pleasing to look at, you will work better with other human beings (such as in bussiness) thus increse your sucess and your chances of being promoted.

Its not the employers fault as much as it is the average citizen... the employers simply know they are getting a lot of clients to sign over. It is the citizens(clients) that are prefering the thinner women.

Shar F.
Sharon F6 years ago

Yes, this country needs a discussion on Critical Thinking, and the 'isms.' Classism, ageism, ableism, racism. (There is only one race, the human race.) The media could be doing more to help with these issues.

Will W.
Will Will6 years ago

first of all why is there no Men´s rights section in Care2?

Second, there may possibly be some slight discrimination, but the weight difference in terms of earning potential is probably more based on the fact that upper income people tend to be slimmer because they tend to have the knowledge, drive and organizational ability to live healthier lives. So, this article is probably confusing causation and correlation.

Yvonne S.
Yvonne S6 years ago

If a person is capable of doing their job their weight should be irrelevant. I remember working in a Doctor's surgery and the office manager came in to the room after interviewing a potential employee and he said he would never employ her because she was wearing purple nail varnish. I thought he was joking, but he wasn't :(