The title above is from an article some time ago in Time entitled “People Who Were Pretty In High School Make More Money Because Life Isn’t Fair.”
The article began: “A new research paper confirms that everything that your mother told you growing up is a lie because the pretty people always win.”
The article linked to a report from the Council for Contemporary Families which claimed, as Time put it: “Women with above average looks reportedly made 8% more while below-average looking women had a 4% penalization. While an attractive man earned just 4% more, men who fell below average on the looks scale were docked 13%.” (Thanks to James Brashear, General Counsel of Zix Corporation in Texas, who brought this article to our attention).
Yesterday, we cited a new study from China that found, among many other things, that height is important in hiring and the taller you are, the more you get paid.
Also — women suffer more from this bias than men.
We turn now to weight. A new Vanderbilt University study cited in Business News Daily notes that “Being overweight in the workplace is tougher on women than on men … Overweight women are more likely to make less money, work in more physically demanding jobs, and have less interaction with customers than average-size women and all men, including those who are also overweight.”
The author of the study, Professor Jennifer Shinall, said that “A morbidly obese woman working in an occupation with an emphasis on personal interaction will earn almost 5 percent less than a normal-weight woman working in an occupation with exactly the same emphasis,” but that this is not true for men.
“No matter what the type of occupation, obese men seem to do just as well as average-size men. They make just as much as non-obese men and make just as much money in both personal interaction occupations and physical occupations.”
We have posted a lot about the ADA and obesity and morbid obesity. See our previous posts on “Lookism,” appearance or beauty bias, and weight and height discrimination: October 16, 2013; July 9, 2012; February 11, 2011).
We did a post some time ago entitled “Weight Bias Is Alive And Well,” to which Maria Hanna Joseph, an attorney/mediator in the Boston area, wrote a very succinct and balanced statement of the very purposes of employment anti-discrimination laws, and concluded that “one’s natural-born features, alone, ought not be barriers to attaining or retaining employment.”
“Employment law is generally based on safeguarding the right to earn a living, provide for and take care of oneself, balanced against employers’ rights to business viability. At the root of employment protections are things individuals can’t control yet pose barriers to being part of the workforce and a significant part of society.
Attractiveness seems to be one such quality, and I see weight bias falling under the umbrella of “attractiveness bias” or “appearance bias” (see, Unattractiveness – The Next Workplace Protected Class? at https://employmentdiscrimination.foxrothschild.com/2012/07/articles/another-category/unattractiveness-the-next-workplace-protected-class/).
I’m a firm believer that places of employment – be it from the viewpoint of the employee or patron – are at the forefront of determining social norms, positive and negative. This is because workplaces make up the hub of human interaction. Standards established at the level of the workforce, therefore, tend to radiate more quickly and pervasively than through any other portal I can think of.
To the extent a bias affects a large enough demographic (admittedly hard to qualify or quantify), I like to see protections extended, such as to features that go beyond what may be considered subjectively or stereotypically “attractive” and are immutable (available surgery not withstanding), though have no appearance-based relevance to work performance.
The qualities that are deemed attractive are not necessarily the same as qualities pertaining to hygiene, neatness, or even workplace-appropriate wardrobe/cosmetic choices, for example. For the most part these are not immutable and one can envision their potential for having a negative impact on work and market environments in terms of workforce interaction and productivity and/or customer attraction. I also think they’re things over which an employer could fairly render an employment-based decision and have a balanced right of protection.
In short, one’s natural-born features, alone, ought not be barriers to attaining or retaining employment.”