Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Junk Science du Jour

According to a Cornell University research study just released, white working women classified as overweight earn an average 7% less than their thinner counterparts, “equivalent to the wage effect of one year of education, two years of continuous employment at one job or three years of work experience,” writes Cornell spokeswoman Susan S. Lang in her press release.

The study adds that the same apparently doesn’t apply to African American and Hispanic working women. And health policy scholar John Cawley, an economist and assistant professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell, “found no evidence that weight affects the probability of employment for white, black or Hispanic women, or the probability of holding a white-collar job.”

Cawley’s study was “controlled for many other factors that affect wages, such as education, measures of intelligence, number of years at the current job and local unemployment rates.” And he hastens to add that “the finding that weight lowers wages is not conclusive evidence of workplace discrimination.” In an effort to understand why the wage discrepancy exists, Cawley points out that “consistent with these findings is that heavier workers are less productive at work. It has repeatedly been found, for example, that obese workers are more likely to miss work due to illness.”

Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the kind of science – and reportage – that makes many fat activists want to burn someone at the steak (er, stake…). The report on this study doesn’t explain why it was conducted in the first place or how its results might be applied. Cawley concluded that fat discrimination isn’t a factor in the hiring, promotion or dismissal of working women. In addition, his controls did not factor in racial discrimination to help explain his findings – meaning, he ignored the fact that the salaries of working black women are already under par, because the majority of them are relegated to low-paying service jobs, such as those in the hospitality, health care, child care and fast food industries.

I know that “anecdotal evidence” (the kind that comes from the actual experience of real people) is routinely dismissed by researchers, which is why, for example, they don’t believe that arthritic people can tell when it’s going to rain. The fact – anecdotal and otherwise – is that fat women (and men, too) are discriminated against in the workplace. We fail to be hired initially, are more readily dismissed, and definitely earn less than non-fat people. Half-assed studies like this, and others – such as those that have most recently told us that fat is contagious, fat women are less likely to have healthy, normal children, and that fat people are bad and anti-social -- egregiously misinform the general public and fuel a growing climate of fat hate.

Don’t believe everything you read in the papers. For further information, check out the excellent Sandy Szwarc's eye-opening junk science reports at:

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