Paychecks and …

… Yes, paychecks and body size. The latter correlates with the former.

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s an endless cultural lesson that’s been drilled into our heads since we were tots, watching cartoons such as “The Flintstones” and playing with Barbie and Ken dolls: If you are a woman, you should be extremely thin; if you are a man, you should be big and strong.

And while we’ve grown accustomed to research finding that such stereotypes play out in the workplace — overweight and obese women, for example, have a harder time ascending the career staircase — a recent study has found that a worker’s girth can have an appreciable impact on the size of his or her paycheck.

How so? (Glad you asked.)

The study found that thin women are paid significantly more than their average-size counterparts, while heavier women make less. Skinnier-than-average men, on the other hand, cash smaller paychecks than their average-weight peers.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Robin

    I know Greg Mankiw (Economics, Harvard) has studied the correlation between other factors and salary, the most prominent being height. He even put out a paper that basically asks, “If being tall gets you a salary premium, and if we are truly concerned about an equitable income distribution, then what level of extra taxes should tall people be required to pay, and how much should we subsidize short people?”

  • Ben

    Any time these kinds of correlations are drawn I’m always curious which comes first: the chicken or the egg.

    It may well be true that heavier women have lower paying jobs, is this because they are paid less because they are overweight or that heavier women tend to obtain lower paying employment? I realize that some of a persons weight has to do with genetics, but much of it has to do with self-discipline and values. If a person struggles with something as basic as the self-discipline to maintain their health should it be shocking that they may lack the drive to excel in the workplace and obtain higher paying positions?

    I’m not trying to be contrarian here, but I think that sometimes this reading of statistics may be closer to the cause of the correlation even though it may be less politically correct.

  • DRT

    This hits very close to home. In 1987 I was up for promotion to Staff Engineer from Senior Engineer at Alcoa. I got a new boss and when I asked him about the promotion he told me he stopped the promotion. I was furious and he said “look, you will only have one more level to go in your career and I don’t want you to max out too soon”. I again freaked and asked him why, he said “You’re not big enough. Look at the department heads and business managers, they are all big men!” I walked out of his office directly into his bosses office. Within 2 weeks he was not a manager anymore. FWIW, I was (and am) 5’10” and was (and am no longer) skinny. He had a lot of strange ideas…..

    The other strange part of that was that Paul O’Neill became CEO of Alcoa that year and it looks like he is about 5’6″

  • Lived in Wien!

    I think Ben’s comments are totally disgusting. A person’s work productivity has nothing to do with his or her weight. Weight bias/hatred/bullying is so prevalent in the Christian community.

  • JohnM

    Ben, I don’t even have to try to be contrarian:)and I suspect you’re onto something. Myself, I’m short and so arguably among the discriminated against.

  • rjs


    This story isn’t dealing with overweight men or women. Discipline, taking care of oneself, etc. isn’t the issue.

    Average sized men make more than thin men

    Thin women make more than average sized women…

  • JohnM

    “How so?” So many other questions. What study? By whom? Funded by? For what purpose? Using what methodology? What qualifies as average – and why do women get to be “thin” while men are “skinnier-than-averge” ;-)? How much more is “significantly more”? Are we comparing people doing the same jobs or different jobs?

  • DRT

    BTW, I only got chunky after I was a top earner. So I supported the hypothesis above, but refuted it (In the dust in a big way!) later…..

  • DRT

    ……( maybe just a little bit big )…….:)

  • DRT

    …….. ( well, maybe big in my family )…… :)

  • AHH

    While I have no doubt there is some causation in the direction suggested, I bet some of the correlation comes from a different cause.

    Obesity rates are significantly higher in lower socioeconomic classes. In modern US culture, the cheap and easy food is often the most fattening. Eating healthy takes money and time which the poor often do not have. Not to mention having time (and a safe place) to exercise. If two otherwise identical women want to lose 20 pounds (or if two otherwise identical skinny men want to bulk up), the one near the poverty line is going to have a harder time doing it than the one who is upper middle class.

    So this would naturally produce correlation between high income and the most “desirable” weight (where, culturally, thin is most desirable for women and average [not skinny, not fat] for men), simply because those with lower incomes don’t have as many resources to devote to achieving or maintaining the desirable form.

  • Watchman

    Just a theory, but maybe the thinner people get paid more because they’re working harder. Thus, the minimal size of their girth.

  • Theo

    Eliminating the bias from appearance is one of the larger societal effects of working from home. If this blog were an job, I’m betting there would no correlation between pay and weight.

  • Susan N.

    Outward image is *very* important in the business world. Our cultural ideals (skinny women, tall/strong men) affect the way we judge one another. Christians, though we know in our heads that God’s way is to look at the heart and inner person, judge by outward standards too, because (I think) we’re more conformed to this world than we will admit). The “beautiful” people have a great big advantage in the world. It’s sort of a world that we create for ourselves, sadly. Hard to rise above our culturally-conditioned behavior and thinking.

    “Measuring…measuring…” My momma always said, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” I’ve also heard it said, “The world isn’t fair.” As Christians, how do we live “in” but not be “of” that world? The Beatitudes come to mind…

  • DRT

    SusanN’s post reminds me, my wife regularly tells me I am going to be reincarnated as a fat black woman so I can see just how good I have it as a (used to be) skinny white guy.

  • MatthewS

    Amen to #4.

    If a person struggles with something as basic as the self-discipline to maintain their health should it be shocking that they may lack the drive to excel in the workplace and obtain higher paying positions?

    Ben, I would like to politely but firmly push back. Emotionally and spiritually damaged people come in bodies large and small. Body size doesn’t tell you where they have been and where they are going.

    Our culture despises overweight women and treats them as outsiders and with disgust. It happens every day in the marketplace and every night on TV.

    One more thought: if body weight were to indicate one’s value in the workplace then why do the larger-than-average men make more? Or is being overweight only a character flaw in women?