March 14, 2016

Shorter men and overweight women are paid less, says UK study

Height and weight play an important role in determining pay and socioeconomic status, with shorter men and overweight women facing particular disadvantages, according to a new study.

The study, published by the BMJ, reports that one standard deviation in body mass index (BMI) is associated with a lower annual household income of £1,890 for women and £210 for men.

Meanwhile, being taller by one standard deviation (equating to 6.3 centimetres) was associated with higher annual household income of £1,130, and 1.12 times higher odds of working in a skilled profession. These associations were stronger for men.

The authors of the study conclude that: “These findings have important social and health implications, supporting evidence that overweight people, especially women, are at a disadvantage and that taller people, especially men, are at an advantage.”

The study distinguished between height and weight differences caused by genetic and environmental factors. Author Timothy Frayling of the University of Exeter commented that: “The data shows that there is a causal effect from being genetically a bit shorter or fatter that leads you to being worse off in life. Previously we didn’t know that.”

Around 120,000 men and women of British heritage aged 37–73 participated in the study.

Susan Averett has written for IZA World of Labor about obesity and labor market outcomes. She notes that “There is growing evidence that obese people receive lower wages and are less likely to be employed than non-obese people, and that these adverse outcomes are caused by obesity,” and argues: “Governments and employers have a compelling interest in finding ways to reduce obesity levels and discrimination against obese workers.”

Elsewhere, Eva Sierminska has written for us about how physical attractiveness can affect earnings. She argues that: ”Society should recognize and observe the relevance of a beauty premium. A need for interventions depends on legal considerations and whether such a premium reflects discrimination or productivity.”

Finally, in her IZA World of Labor article Soohyung Lee asks whether investment in beauty translates to better pay and job prospects. She concludes that: “For the average person, the monetary benefits of plastic surgery, medical treatments to increase height, and expensive clothing are not worth the cost.”

The BMJ study can be found here.

Related articles:
Obesity and labor market outcomes by Susan L. Averett
Does it pay to be beautiful? by Eva Sierminska
Beauty pays but does investment in beauty? by Soohyung Lee
Find more IZA World of Labor articles about demography and health