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Rising concerns over fatness in the United States have initiated a rise in research attending to the reproduction of fatness inequality. Prior work has documented that fat workers are evaluated less favorably and endure more weight-based discrimination than their thinner peers. Additionally, overweight and obese workers tend to have lower earnings than their thinner counterparts, and these penalties are especially harsh for women. However, less is known about the role of age in the relationship between fatness and earnings for women and men. We also know little about the processes through which fatness produces lower earnings. This mixed-methods project lends new insight into both of these issues. Using a sample of workers aged 25 to 72 drawn from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (1995-1996 and 2004-2006), I examine gender and age variation in the relationship between fatness and earnings. Multiple regression analyses reveal that obese individuals have lower earnings than their normal weight counterparts, overweight women have lower earnings than overweight men, and earnings penalties begin to accumulate at older ages among women. Measures of self-reported labor market discrimination and unfavorable workplace relations are unable to account for these penalties, suggesting that reduced earnings may be the result of subtler interactions in the workplace. I also analyze data drawn from twenty in-depth interviews with women with fatness-related labor market experience. These women describe interactions that point to the devaluation of fatness in the labor market, including extensive discussions about diet and being approached by coworkers and bosses about their size. They also describe strategies used to compensate for their fatness that may contribute to the reproduction of fatness inequality. The findings from this project reveal that fatness, gender, and age affect personal earnings with these systems of inequality interrelated. They also illustrate how women's fatness inequality may be maintained through interpersonal interactions in the workplace.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Sociology in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Anne E. Barrett, Professor Directing Dissertation; Jack Fiorito, University Representative; Irene Padavic, Committee Member; John Reynolds, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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