Obese women are more likely to be discriminated against when applying for jobs and, once hired, receive lower starting salaries than their slim colleagues, according to a new study.
The study looked at whether a newly developed measure of anti-fat prejudice, known as the universal measure of bias, predicted actual discrimination. The researchers also examined whether people’s own insecurities about their body image affected hiring practices, as well as what effect different personality types had on obesity discrimination.
Psychologist and lead researcher Dr. Kerry O’Brien from the University of Manchester noted the true purpose of the study was concealed from participants to avoid biased results, with researchers advertising it as a study on whether some people are better at personnel selection than others.
Participants viewed resumes that had a photo of the job applicants attached and were asked to make ratings of the applicants’ suitability, starting salary, and employability. The resumes included photos of the same women, with some pictured before bariatric surgery and others post-bariatric surgery, where the women were in a normal weight range.
What the researchers found was that a “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,” O’Brien said.
She noted that the higher a participant’s score on the measure of anti-fat prejudice, the more likely they were to discriminate against obese job applicants, while those with a more authoritarian personality also displayed discrimination.
The participants’ ratings of their own physical appearance and importance of physical appearance were also associated with obesity discrimination, the researcher reported.
“The higher participants rated their own physical attractiveness and the importance of physical appearance, the greater the prejudice and discrimination,” said O’Brien. “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.”
The results 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 slim people, she added.
“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,” she 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.”
Source: University of Manchester