Employment for Women a Challenge in Alabama, and Now There’s Another Factor: Weight

A recent study has revealed that obese women have lower incomes, on average, than women who weigh less and men of any weight.

The study, authored by Vanderbilt University law professor Jennifer Shinall, investigated the earlier claims of research from 2004, which found that a 65-pound increase in a woman’s weight was associated with a 9% decrease in wage or salary. Overall, the earlier research concluded that this “obesity penalty” amounted to women losing the equivalent of three years of experience in the workplace.

The new study tested a few hypotheses to determine why the women earned less. Among them were the ideas that heavier women choose lower-paying work, that they are less productive, or that employers discriminate against heavier women.

Shinall analyzed workers’ genders, body mass indexes, wages, job descriptions and industries to find correlations.

The discoveries pointed out that weight may contribute to the types of industries where these women work. She found that heavier women also had a tendency to end up in more physically demanding jobs.

Jobs involving physical labor, such as working in a warehouse, were far more common for obese women than “personal interaction jobs,” which require communication with the public in areas like sales or reception.

The data likely applies to Alabama, as well: In September, a study was released by the Institute for Women’s policy research that ranked Alabama 50th out of all states and the District of Columbia in terms of employment opportunities for women. The Institute also ranked the state 43rd in terms of median annual income for women at $31,200.

Some of these women may aim to lose weight the weight through exercise programs; for instance, three to four hours of tennis per week can help players lose half a pound at a time. But other options are appearing on the market, like an eating tracker that monitors chewing.

The Automatic Ingestion Monitor, developed by University of Alabama researchers, helps users track their diets to help them determine how much and how often they eat by measuring jaw movement. The project’s lead researcher Dr. Edward Sazonov said that the tracker, which is a Bluetooth device worn over the ear, could provide objective data on obesity and eating disorders.

In the meantime, women are still targets for discrimination in the workplace. In an interview, Shinall gave professions such as pharmaceutical sales as an example of a job skewed toward hiring thinner, more attractive women.

When compared with their male counterparts, Shinall explained that there’s also a difference in public perception. While larger women may be shunned, heavier men are seen as “fun” and therefore would still be likely to hold public-facing occupations.