Written by Emily Redler ’20
Physical factors can often influence whether or not a person gets hired. It’s been well-established that gender can be one of those factors, and that women are often hired at lower rates than men. Another factor that’s been explored in relation to hiring is weight. There are societal pressures to look a certain way and be a certain weight, but do these pressures affect hiring rates? There has been evidence that they do, and the researchers of this study (Pingitore et al., 1994) sought to add to the growing base of evidence and resolve issues from previous studies.
The researchers of this study were interested in examining how weight affects hiring rates, as well as how gender (both of the participant and of the applicant) and the participant’s perceptions of their own body may affect this relationship. The participants were 320 psychology undergraduate students. Each student was given a job description and was assigned to watch a pre-taped interview of a job applicant. The applicant in the video was either male or female and either overweight or normal weight. Previous studies examining these factors have often used different people as overweight and normal weight applicants, which leads investigators to be unsure if any observed effects are due to the weight difference or some other difference between the applicants (Klesges et al., 1990; Larkin & Pines, 1979). Therefore, the researchers of this study decided to use the same applicant for both the normal weight and overweight conditions, and used prosthetics to transform them. After watching the interview, participants had to rate how likely they were to hire the person and how they perceived the applicant’s personality disposition.
Results showed that, overall, overweight applicants were less likely to be hired than normal weight applicants, and female applicants were less likely to be hired than male applicants. When looking at the relationship between these factors, female overweight applicants were less likely to be hired than male overweight applicants, and weight had a larger effect on the hiring of women than of men. More negative personality dispositions were assigned to overweight applicants, and women were more likely to assign these negative dispositions and were also less likely to hire overweight applicants than men. This shows that women are more inclined to succumb to the societal pressures to assign negative traits to being overweight, and to let these assumed traits inform their decisions.
Weight can clearly be a large factor in hiring decisions and can hinder one’s hiring chances. Work needs to be done in popular culture to normalize being overweight and to minimize the automatic biases and negative traits that are associated with it.
Klesges, R., Klem, M., Hanson, C., Eck, L., Ernst, J., O’Laughlin, D., Garrot, A., & Rife, R. (1990). The effect of applicant’s health status and qualifications on simulated hiring decisions. International Journal of Obesity, 14, 527-535.
Pingitore, R., Dugoni, B. L., Tindale, R. S., & Spring, B. (1994). Bias against overweight job applicants in a simulated employment interview. Journal of Applied Psychology,79(6), 909-917. doi:10.1037//0021-9010.79.6.909