The gender pay gap goes deeper than just men vs. women—and your lower salary may actually be from weight discrimination
It's no secret there's a gender pay gap in America. Everyone knows working women make 79 cents to every dollar men earn. But it turns out there's another hit to our resolve to rise above: A new study (in, we can only assume, the journal of Life Isn't Fair) found that men also get paid more when they gain weight, whereas women have to slim down to score a fatter paycheck.
In a long-term study of over 1,200 people, researchers in New Zealand found that as women gained weight, they suffered in all six psychosocial areas measured—depression, life satisfaction, self-esteem, household income, personal income, and savings and investments. The men in the study, though, didn't endure the psychological strain from jumping pants sizes and actually fared better in certain areas—as their bodies got bigger, so did their salaries.
The fact that women are penalized in the workplace for gaining weight isn't exactly new news. A Vanderbilt study last year found that gaining just 13 pounds will cost the fairer sex $9,000 in salary per year. But the fact that overweight professional men not only don't share the same stigma for weight gain but are actually rewarded for it is lemon juice on the paper cut you got printing out your resume.
This imbalance confirms a 2011 study published in Forbes which followed nearly 30,000 adults in Europe and the U.S. and found that women are indeed monetarily penalized for gaining weight. Heavy men in this study, however, were only rewarded up to a point—the salary jump disappeared if the scale tipped from overweight into obesity. The difference may be due to the different cultural body ideals between Pacific islanders and Western nations.
As for the new New Zealand study, the researchers speculate that the weight and paycheck discrepency might be because men's confidence and self-esteem are less effected by their pants size which allows them to continue to be assertive and confident in their jobs. Unfortunately, that speculation does hold some merit, considering 89 Percent of American Women Are Unhappy with Their Weight (But Here's How to Change That).
While the scientists sort out all the nuances of gender and weight discrimination, though, legislators are taking steps to fix the problem. Governor Jerry Brown of California just signed the California Fair Pay Act into law, which requires employers to "distinguish any pay gaps between employees due to different skill levels or seniority at the position." Specifically, this means companies can no longer use the "equal work" loophole as an excuse to deny a woman fair pay for doing a similar but not identical job as a man. Instead of the old "equal pay for equal work," the new law states equal pay for similar work.
It's just one state but we hope the rest of the country will follow California's lead. In the meantime, we know another way to help: More women at the top, stat!