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Cornell professor says there is evidence weight impacts employment

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Kaitlyn Serrao

New York City’s new law banning weight discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations goes into effect on Wednesday, Nov. 22. It’s an amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law.

John Cawley

Professor, Cornell Brooks School of Public Policy

John Cawley is a professor of public policy and economics at Cornell University. His research focuses on the economics of diet, physical activity, and obesity.

Cawley says:

“NYC joins just six other cities and one state in outlawing weight discrimination. In my research, I have estimated the causal effect of weight on wages. I find in U.S. data that weight does lower wages for women. This is concentrated among white females. Weight did not detectably lower the wages of men.

“In a follow-up study using rich data from Finland and a somewhat different statistical technique that exploited the genetic variation in weight, we found that weight lowered wages and the number of years employed. Is this negative impact of weight on wages/earnings due to poorer health or to discrimination? There is evidence of both.

“In other research, my coauthors and I have found that higher BMI raises medical care costs and job absenteeism, but really only after the threshold of obesity – not at lower levels of BMI. Other research has found strong evidence that employers discriminate on the basis of weight. So, there is evidence of discrimination in the labor market on the basis of weight, and that high levels of weight impairs health and increases medical care costs and job absenteeism.”

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