Employment Discrimination

Numerous academic studies verify that heavy people in general, and heavy women in particular are discriminated against in employment. In one survey, 40% of heavy men and 60% of heavy women reported having experienced employment discrimination. (Kristen, 2000, p.63).

Barriers to getting hired

One study indicated that 16% of employers refuse to hire “obese women” no matter how qualified (Kristen 2000: 62).

And 44% of employers admitted they would use an applicant’s obesity as “conditional medical grounds” for not hiring-- especially if the applicant was female (Kristen 2000: 62).    

“Weightism affects people of all sizes who are plagued by fear of becoming fat and hence stigmatized” (Maine 2000: 18 ).  

In another study, overweight job candidates were viewed by potential employers as “less competent, less productive, not industrious, disorganized, indecisive, inactive, and less successful”(Kristen 2000:63). Such negative stereotypes are pervasive in society today.

On the job

Large size people are often denied jobs which require interaction with the public. When heavy workers do secure employment, they are kept in jobs which are beneath their abilities, are less likely to be promoted and are often demoted or fired because of weight prejudice (Kristen 2000: 64). Heavy workers are frequently subject to workplace harassment by employers and coworkers alike (Kristen 2000: 64).


Studies show that among white women, heavy women earn significantly less than thin women. Those who were considered moderately obese earned 6% less while those who were considered to be highly obese earned 24% less than thin women. Not surprisingly, then, the household incomes of heavy women are $6,710 lower than women who are thin (Kristen 2000: 64). Heavy women have a 10% higher poverty rate. The earnings of heavy men are not significantly affected. This reflects the greater importance placed on women’s appearance in our society.

In most of America, weight is NOT a protected factor in fair-employment law. This means that legally, employers may deny job interviews to obese people or dismiss obese employees on grounds of weight alone. The only means by which an obese person may be afforded limited legal protection is through the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This Act states that “it is illegal to discriminate against someone who has a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more…major life activities of the individual.” This Act rarely protects the obese.