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Last Update: 2012-06-11   Source: Research Headlines
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Study shows obese women face job discrimination

Researchers from Australia and the United Kingdom have discovered that discrimination is alive and kicking in the labour market. Presented in the International Journal of Obesity, the study shows that obese women do not really stand a chance of landing a job when they are up against non-overweight candidates. But that is not all. Obese women are even paid less than their thinner counterparts.

Potential employers favour thin female candidates © Shutterstock
Potential employers favour thin female candidates
©  Shutterstock

Researchers from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and Monash University in Australia investigated whether a recently developed measure of anti-fat prejudice, the universal measure of bias (UMB), predicted actual obesity job discrimination.

The team also examined whether there is a link between obesity discrimination and the insecurity women have about their bodies (i.e. body image) and conservative personalities, including authoritarianism and social dominance orientation. Experts have identified a connection between these factors and homophobia and racism.

Dr Kerry O'Brien, a senior lecturer at Monash University and Fellow at the University of Manchester, said participants were not initially told what the nature of the study was. They were enrolled in the study after seeing an advertisement about researchers investigating whether there are people who are better at selecting personnel than others.

'Participants viewed a series of resumes that had a small photo of the job applicant attached, and were asked to make ratings of the applicants' suitability, starting salary, and employability,' said Dr O’Brien. 'We used pictures of women pre- and post-bariatric surgery, and varied whether participants saw either a resume, amongst many, that had a picture of an obese female (BMI 38–41) attached, or the same female but in a normal weight range (BMI 22–24) following bariatric surgery,' he added. 'We found that strong obesity discrimination was displayed across all job selection criteria, such as starting salary, leadership potential, and likelihood of selecting an obese candidate for the job.'

They found that the higher a subject scored on the measure of anti-fat prejudice, the greater the chance they had of discriminating against obese candidates. They observed that people who have a more authoritarian personality also displayed discrimination.

The team also identified a connection between the subjects' ratings of their own physical appearance (i.e. body image), the importance of physical appearance and obesity discrimination.

'The higher participants rated their own physical attractiveness and the importance of physical appearance, the greater the prejudice and discrimination,' Dr O’Brien pointed out. 'One interpretation of this finding might be that we feel better about our own bodies if we compare ourselves and discriminate against ‘fat’ people, but we need to test this experimentally.'

It is the first time researchers have identified a link between explicit self-report measures of obesity prejudice and obesity job discrimination. According to the team, their findings suggest that a belief in the superiority of some individuals over others is related to the perception that obese individuals deserve fewer privileges and opportunities than non-fat individuals.

'Our findings show that there is a clear need to address obesity discrimination, particularly against females who tend to bear the brunt of anti-fat prejudice,' Dr O'Brien said. 'Prejudice reduction interventions and policies need to be developed. It’s also becoming clear that the reasons for this prejudice appear to be related to our personalities, how we feel about ourselves, with attributions, such as, obese people are lazy, gluttonous etc merely acting as justifications for our prejudice.'

Experts from New Zealand and the United States also contributed to this study.


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