Weight and wages

There’s no doubt we, as a people, have become heavier. Both obesity rates and overweight rates are at record levels. Is there any evidence to suggest that a person’s weight has any impact on what they earn by working? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“This has been an area of interest … that economists snub and others have spent some time looking at. And the basic results you find (are) that, yes, that … folks who are overweight, folks who are obese — it does show up in terms of their earnings being lower. And this has particularly been found for females more so than for males.

“However, a recent study went and looked at this in more depth and … found some flaws. What they looked at is the measure … that is used to judge whether someone is overweight. And it’s a measure called body mass index. The problem with the body mass index measure is it can be high … whether you have extra pounds due to fat or due to muscle. And, of course, if it’s due to muscle, that has a whole other potential meaning.

“So what these researchers did is rather than … use body mass index, they simply used the … percentage of fat in someone’s composition. And here what they found is that if your fat percentage is higher that, indeed, on average, you will be paid lower wages. But … if you have more pounds due to muscle, by having more muscle, because your percentage of muscle is more, actually you’re paid higher wages.

“And the question (that) is not yet answered is, is that because you’re a more productive worker if you’re more muscular or are you being paid more because you have a better appearance?”

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