New Research Finds Obesity Negatively Impacts Income, Especially for Women

Released: 12/1/2011 9:50 AM EST
Source Newsroom: George Washington University
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Newswise — WASHINGTON – A new report from The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services’ Department of Health Policy (GW) uncovered an overall wage differential between those of normal weight and those who are obese, especially when it comes to women. The research, released today, demonstrates the impact obesity may have on a person’s paycheck.

Examining years 2004 and 2008 in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) to quantify obesity-attributable wage gaps, the GW research team found the connection between obesity and reduced wages to be stronger and more persistent among females than males. In 2004, wages among the obese were $8,666 less for females and $4,772 lower for males. In 2008, wages were $5,826 less for obese females, a 14.6% penalty over normal weight females.

“This research broadens the growing body of evidence that shows that in addition to taxing health, obesity significantly affects personal finances,” said Christine Ferguson, J.D., Professor in the Department of Health Policy. “It also reinforces how prevalent stigma is when it comes to weight-related health issues.”

Additionally, the research shows that there are significant differences in wages dependent upon race. In 2004, Hispanic women who were obese earned $6,618 less than those who were normal weight. In 2008, the differential doubled for Hispanic men who were obese to earnings of $8,394 less than normal weight counterparts, while for women the gap narrowed slightly.

Other key findings from Gender and Race Wage Gaps Attributable to Obesity include:
• Both men and women who were obese experienced reduced wages compared to their normal weight counterparts.
• For both genders, and all racial categories, except Hispanic men, the wage differential narrowed between 2004 and 2008, despite the economy worsening.
• Caucasian women who are obese experienced a wage penalty in both 2004 and 2008 while Caucasian men only experienced a differential in 2004.
• Hispanic women who were obese experienced a wage differential in both 2004 and 2008; Hispanic men who were obese only experienced a wage differential in 2008.
• In both years, wages for African-American men who were obese were higher than their normal weight counterparts, while for African-American women, wages were similar between those who were obese and those who were normal weight.

The research builds upon findings discovered by GW last year, which raised the different ways that obesity impacts each gender. That report was focused on the individualized costs of obesity which outlined the overall, tangible, annual costs of being obese based on a series of measures including indirect costs, including lost productivity, and direct costs, such as obesity-related medical expenditures, to estimate the price tag of obesity at the individual level. On average, those costs are $4,879 for an obese woman and $2,646 for an obese man . The biggest difference among gender was wages, leading them to dive deeper in this focus area.

About the Methodology
The GW research team explored wage differentials more NLSY79 wave years 2004 and 2008 to further quantify obesity-attributable wage gaps. The NLSY79 provides detailed information about earnings, education, employment status, and employment characteristics, but also provides information about health and household characteristics. The NLSY79 follows the same panel of participants over time.

About the GW School of Public Health and Health Services
Established in July 1997, the School of Public Health and Health Services brought together three longstanding university programs in the schools of medicine, business, and education that we have since expanded substantially. Today, more than 1,100 students from nearly every U.S. state and more than 40 nations pursue undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral-level degrees in public health. Our student body is one of the most ethnically diverse among the nation's private schools of public health. http://sphhs.gwumc.edu/

The report was made possible by a donation provided by Allergan, Inc., as part of its C.H.O.I.C.E. (Choosing Health over Obesity Inspiring Change through Empowerment) Campaign.

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