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Being fat costs women more

Obese women earn less than their slimmer sisters, while obese men earn about the same as men of normal weight.

By Karen Datko Oct 1, 2010 10:17AM

It's no secret that it costs more to be fat -- higher health care costs, higher prices for plus-size clothing, the extra cost of double airline seats and larger caskets.

The news is that the extra annual cost of being obese is higher for women ($4,879) than for men ($2,646), according to a new study by George Washington University (.pdf file). For those who are merely overweight, the extra cost is $524 for women and $432 for their male counterparts, the new study says. ("Overweight" is defined as a body mass index between 25 and 30. "Obese" is 30 and above.)


The study considered factors like health care costs and wages, but didn't include higher prices for consumer goods -- the extra airplane seat and the rest.


That's a significant finding, considering that two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. The New York Times explains: Post continues after video.

Based on a median annual wage for women of $32,450 in 2009, the report found that obese women who work full time earn $1,855 less annually than nonobese women, a 6% reduction. By contrast, studies have found that the wages of obese men are not significantly different from those of normal-weight men.

Hold on. It gets even worse. The study says:

Adding the value of lost life to these annual costs produces even more dramatic results. Average annualized costs, including value of lost life, are $8,365 for obese women and $6,518 for obese men.

This is despite the fact that the "effect of obesity on life expectancy is greater for men than for women at all weight cohorts."


The study doesn't fully explain why the pay gap exists. "One possible explanation is that there is more discrimination against women when they are obese than against men, that obesity is perceived differently for women than for men," study co-author Avi Dor told the Times.


The study was funded by a company that makes equipment for lap-band surgery, but similar findings have been reported before. For example:

  • The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance states (.pdf file) that fat people can expect "up to 6% lessearnings than thin people in comparable positions and fat women suffer more than fat men," citing a 2004 report. The group is pushing for anti-discrimination measures.
  • "Women who are fat suffer enormous social and economic consequences, a new study has shown," a story in The New York Times in 1993said. "… The fat women were 20% less likely to marry, had household incomes that were an average of $6,710 lower and were 10% more likely to be living in poverty." Fat men in the study were no worse off than thinner guys.  

So, the double standard is nothing new, and it's sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Ever notice how fat men are often described as "portly" or "stout" but large women are "fat" or "fatties"? Words can sting, but a pay gap affects quality of life -- for the individual and entire families.


What do you think? Is it more acceptable for guys to be fat? Do fat women face more discrimination on the job and elsewhere? A researcher remarked to the Times 17 years ago that discrimination against fat people "is the last fashionable form of prejudice." What can we do about that?


If you've faced discrimination because of your weight, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance provides links to resources that can help.


More from MSN Money:

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