There’s plenty of evidence showing that obese women experience discrimination. They’re less likely to get hired, their salaries are lower, and they tend to be mistreated even as customers in shopping malls.
But according to a new study, “Weight isn’t selling: The insidious effects of weight stigmatization in retail settings,” by researchers at Rice University and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, men are just as likely to be penalized for being overweight.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, sent men to apply for jobs at retail stores around the South as their typical selves and wearing overweight prosthetics. They also posed as customers in other stores. When the men appeared overweight, both as customers and job applicants, they experienced subtle discrimination. None of the participants were barred from applying for job openings. “Employees they interacted with would try to end the interaction early, there was less affirmative behavior like less nodding or smiling; there was more avoidance types of behavior like frowning and trying to get out of the interaction,” Enrica Ruggs, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, who co-authored the study, said in a press release. “A lot of the research that has looked at weight stigmatization or discrimination toward heavy people has tended to focus on women. It’s perceived as more of a critical issue surrounding women, so we wanted to see if men experience some of the same types of detriments that women face.”
The researchers also performed a second, lab-based component of the study that revealed overweight male retail workers experience subtle discrimination, too. They’re more likely to be perceived as clumsy, unprofessional and messy. “These findings are another reminder that there is still more work to be done in terms of creating equitable workplaces for all employees, potential employees and consumers,” Ruggs said.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than two out of three American adults are considered overweight or obese.