Whether we like it or not, our appearance plays a crucial role in landing a job, but should our weight determine what type of job we should land or even how much we get paid? A paper by Jennifer Shinall, assistant professor of law at Vanderbilt Law School, has revealed that overweight and obese women have a harder time finding work that doesn’t involve physical activity and, on average, are paid less than their skinnier counterparts.

“Starting when a woman becomes overweight, she is increasingly less likely to work in a personal interaction or personal communication occupation,” Shinall said in a statement. “And the heaviest women in the labor market are the least likely individuals to work in personal interaction occupation.”

Shinall split the most common job positions occupied by women into two categories: interaction jobs — a position that requires working closely with the customer, including salesperson, customer service representative, or receptionist — and physically demanding jobs, such as nurse’s aides, home health aides, registered nurses, food preparation, and childcare. She gathered data using the Current Population Survey, American Time Use Survey’s Eating and Health Module, and the Occupational Information Network.

A woman’s chance of working a physically demanding job goes up as she gets heavier, meaning morbidly obese women are most likely to work in an occupation that demands physical activity. Women struggling with obesity who do land a higher-paying interaction job still don’t get paid as much as women in a normal weight range. Obese women also make around five percent less than normal-weight women working the same job.

Shinall attributed obese women being penalized in the labor market to a lower demand in the marketplace. However, obese men do not face the same problem with landing an interaction job or getting paid the same as normal-weight men. Findings from Shinall’s assessment held up even after she took education and socioeconomic status into account.

“No matter what the type of occupation, obese men seem to do just as well as average-size men,” Shinall added. “They make just as much as non-obese men and make just as much money in both personal interaction occupations and physical occupations. But we see the opposite pattern for women.”

Legal experts have recently started to discuss if obesity should be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. “What seems to be going on in the labor market may be more of a sex discrimination issue that could be tied to Title VII.” (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibiting sex discrimination in employment).

Source: Shinall J. Why Obese Workers Earn Less: Occupational Sorting and Its Implications for the Legal System. Social Science Research Network. 2014.