Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Heavy in School, Burdened for Life

A sobering op ed in today's NYT about how obesity has terrible long-term economic consequences for women:

MUCH of the debate about the nation's obesity epidemic has focused, not surprisingly, on food: labeling requirements, taxes on sugary beverages and snacks, junk food advertisements aimed at children and the nutritional quality of school lunches.

But obesity affects not only health but also economic outcomes: overweight people have less success in the job market and make less money over the course of their careers than slimmer people. The problem is particularly acute for overweight women, because they are significantly less likely to complete college.

We arrived at this conclusion after examining data from a project that tracks more than 10,000 people who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957. From career entry to retirement, overweight men experienced no barriers to getting hired and promoted. But heavier women worked in jobs that had lower earnings and social status and required less education than their thinner female peers.

At first glance this difference might appear to reflect bias on the part of employers, and male supervisors in particular. After all, studies find that employers tend to view overweight workers as less capable, less hard-working and lacking in self-control.

But the real reason was that overweight women were less likely to earn college degrees — regardless of their ability, professional goals or socioeconomic status. In other words, it didn't matter how talented or ambitious they were, or how well they had done in high school. Nor did it matter whether their parents were rich or poor, well educated or high school dropouts.

Our study, published last year in the journal Social Forces, was the first to show that decreased education was the key mechanism that reduced the career achievement of overweight women — an impact that persisted even among those who lost weight later in life. We found no similar gap in educational attainment for overweight men.


Heavy in School, Burdened for Life

Published: June 2, 2011


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