Obese woman in a business suit, smiling

Obese candidates less likely to get the job, says study

Written by Elizabeth Bromstein
Posted on August 29, 2014

If you are obese, you will probably have a harder time finding a job.

A new survey conducted by Thomas Mansfield, a law firm in Croydon, UK, has found that HR and recruitment professionals view obesity as an undesirable trait.

The Croydon Advertiser reports that 46% of respondents said that being obese implies that a candidate will be less productive than a slimmer candidate. Fifty-six per cent said that obesity was a “valuable marker” when determining candidate character and predicting performance.

Just more than half of respondents, 51%, said that when presented with two candidates, all other things being equal save that one is obese, they would prefer to hire the “normal” candidate.

Senior Partner at Thomas Mansfield, Neill Thomas, said this is unfair discrimination.

Thomas said, according to the Advertiser, “The findings of the study reveal the problem of bias faced by obese people during the recruitment and selection process which potentially means that the most suitably qualified candidate does not get chosen.

“This highlights that people continue to hold stereotypical assumptions that obese people are responsible for their own weight and any problems they suffer are self-inflicted – whereas it might be the case that there is an underlying medical condition.”

The research comes on the heels of recent news about an obese daycare worker, Karsten Kaltoft, in Denmark who was let go for being unable to bend down and tie children’s shoelaces. The daycare says Kaltoft was unable to fulfill the requirements of the job, while Kaltoft is reportedly claiming obesity should be considered a disability.

These things can be difficult for the layman to figure out but, as far as I understand it, there are no explicit laws in Canada against weight discrimination. However, according to HR Insider:

    “Under human rights laws, individuals with “disabilities” are protected from employment discrimination and entitled to reasonable accommodations necessary to ensure equal opportunity … Although obesity is not automatically considered a disability, there are certain cases where discriminating against employees/job applicants may lead to liability under human right.”

Other research in the area finds that one’s weight affects one’s earnings, but not in the way you might expect.

A 2012 study by Timothy A. Judge at the University of Florida, found that skinny women make more money than average-weight women – but skinny men made less than average men.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Judge looked at separate studies of 11,253 Germans and 12,686 Americans and found that women weighing 25 pounds less than the group average earned an average $15,572 a year more than women of normal weight. Women’s earnings diminished the more they weighed. A woman who gained 25 pounds above the average weight earned an average $13,847 less than an average-weight female.

The findings for men, however, went in the opposite direction. So thin males earned $8,437 less than average-weight men, and their pay went up as they got heavier. This ebbed as they hit obese levels.

This is not a new area of research.

In 2009, Canwest News Service reported that Yale researcher Rebecca Puhl had found obese people face “discrimination at every stage of the employment process, from getting hired to getting fired.” Puhl reportedly said that the obese are likely to be paid less for equal work and that studies show “people would rather hire an unqualified thin person than a qualified overweight person with better credentials.”

How about you? Have you ever felt that you were treated better or worse because of your weight? Have you made decisions based on another person’s weight? And do you think obesity is a disability? Discuss!


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