Short men get short-changed, and overweight women are often overlooked when it comes opportunities in life, finds a study published in The BMJ.
Height and weight play an important role in contributing to outcomes for a number of factors across an individual's socioeconomic status, particularly income.
Body size has long been linked to how financially well off a person is at least early in life. Individuals from poorer backgrounds are less likely to grow tall and more likely to put on excess weight, the result of lower-quality education and nutrition as children and young adults.
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University of Exeter researchers now have a glimpse of how height and weight affect a number of socioeconomic metrics including education, job level and income later in life.
Using demographic measures, health data and genetic information voluntarily provided by nearly 120,000 individuals whose ages ranged between 37 and 73, the researchers quantified the impacts of body size on income potential. A man three inches shorter than his taller peers earned £1,500 ($2,140) less annually. The same income shortfall held true for a woman 14 pounds (6.3 kilograms) heavier than her counterparts.
The disparity arises for no reason other than genetics. The researchers focused on 400 genetic variants associated with height and 70 tied to body mass index (BMI) to get an objective view of how body size alone accounted for the fluctuations of various socioeconomic indicators.
Although the researchers were able to find a causal link between body size and variability in financial well-being, why these trends exist is less well understood. A mix of psychological factors surrounding self esteem, bias and more could create the disparity that place shorter men and overweight women at an economic disadvantage.
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Discrimination certainly plays a role in some hiring practices, according to past studies. University of Manchester researchers in 2012 found that obese women were more likely to discriminated against and had lower starting salaries than their colleagues.
Positive discrimination also confer economic and social advantages on individuals with certain physical characteristics. A 2003 study (PDF) found that tall people are not only often rewarded with higher incomes than they're shorter colleagues; they're also more respected in the workplace.
A 2009 study similarly found that tall people earn more and are also perceived to be more intelligent and powerful by their peers.
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Over a single year, the impact of the disparity in income across individuals of various sizes is significant. Over the course of a lifetime of earnings, people divided only by their physical attributes can experience an entirely different standard of living simply because they're a few inches short or a bit overweight.