There’s an interesting paper from health economist Heather Brown who observes that single women with a higher BMI (body mass index) tend to earn higher wages than similar women with a lower BMI. Married men also have a wage rate that is positively related to their BMI – the more weight they carry the higher their wages tend to be. The opposite is true for single men and married women – there is a negative correlation between their age rate and BMI – the more weight they carry the lower their wages tend to be.
Why is this? The most likely reason is that being overweight doesn’t disadvantage men in the market for marriage to anything like the same extent that it disadvantages women – but it does encourage women to invest more in their careers to compensate for the disadvantage in the marriage market. Or to put it another way, very attractive slimmer women have a much higher likelihood of marrying financially well off men than overweight women, which means according to Heather Brown’s studies they do not have quite such strong incentives to invest in their careers as women who are disadvantaged in the marriage market.
Studies by Pierre-Andre Chiappori, Sonia Orefice and Climent Quintana-Domeque also show that as a result of this, overweight women are more likely to marry low-income men. If single, heavy women know that a) they are less likely to marry, and b) if they do marry they are more likely to marry a low-income man, it makes sense that there would be a pattern whereby heavier women invest more in their careers.
The flipside of the coin, however, is that slim, attractive women under-investing in their careers because of the expectation of marrying higher-income men may be affecting the ‘pay gap’ statistics – but in a way that amplifies the point made above about the lack of a gender pay gap. That is to say, not only is it the case that there is no gender pay gap due to discriminatory forces, it may well be the case that women in their 20s and 30s are earning slightly more than men even though a significant number of them (those with a lower BMI) are under-investing in their careers due to future marital expectations.
James Knight is the editor of the blog The Philosophical Muser