Are overweight contestants less likely to win on Jeopardy?
Obviously not. But a recent research study in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes shows that the majority of us think obesity will make a person less competitive on game shows, in the workplace, and at virtually any other task.
For their study, Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer conducted multiple interviews and tests to assess bias against the obese. They determined that across the board, study participants viewed overweight people are less competent than thinner people.
More surprising was that fact that both thin and overweight respondents shows this bias.
“People judge discrimination against obese people to be far more legitimate and acceptable than discrimination against race, religion or ethnicity,” Schweitzer says.
The paper adds to an increasing body of work that highlighting our clear bias against the overweight. Such discrimination shows up in our personal lives and, even more troubling, in the workplace. The belief that obese people are less effective in the office compromises their changes at getting hired, and puts them at a disadvantage for promotion and fair compensation. If you have experienced any of these forms of workplace discrimination, contact an employment attorney to defend your rights.
The problem of weight discrimination is especially urgent when we consider that over 30% of Americans are obese.
Although many studies show that women more commonly experience discrimination based on weight, Schweitzer’s study indicates that both men and women alike were deemed less competent if they are obese.
Previous research reveals the many disadvantages overweight workers face: they are less likely to be hired and promoted, and also earn lower pay than their thin counterparts. The question of why is explored in Schweitzer’s new paper: in part, there is simply an assumption that overweight people lack self-control and motivation. This, in turn, translates to an overall perception of low competence, Schweitzer argues.
“The bias against overweight people is particularly pernicious,” Schweitzer argues in a video interview. Since most American believe that obese people have a choice about their weight, and can simply shed pounds if they try a little harder, we’re more likely to think discrimination against them is justified.
“We accept this kind of bias in a way that we wouldn’t perceive racial discrimination,” Schweitzer says.
Michigan is currently the only state in the U.S. that prohibits discrimination against the obese. There are no federal laws extending this protection.
Yet this form of workplace discrimination may become less common in the future. Already there is widespread support for laws that would ban discrimination based on weight, according to Rebecca Puhl, deputy director at the Rudd Center For Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut.
In a 2008 study Puhl conducted, reports of weight discrimination went up by 66% between 1995 and 2005. Yet in a linked survey conducted last year, 75% of respondents voiced strong support for legislation prohibiting discrimination.
“Two-thirds of our population is overweight or obese,” says Puhl. “This is a societal issue we need to address, rather than penalizing workers for it.”