Obesity in the Labor Market: Implications for the Legal System
Shinall, Jennifer Hope Bennett
This dissertation examines the impact of obesity on the labor market from a legal point of view. Previous scholars have documented a discrepancy between the wages of the obese and the non-obese that is particularly large for women. Chapter I aims to explain this wage discrepancy by presenting evidence on sorting by occupational characteristics. The results in Chapter I demonstrate that the heaviest female workers sort into occupations requiring physical activity and out of occupations requiring communication. These results are consistent with the existence of discrimination against obese workers. Chapter II shifts focus to the existing legal remedies that currently prohibit discrimination against the obese in the labor market. Although multiple protective laws exist on the Federal, state, and city levels, only two of these laws have improved employment outcomes for the obese. Chapter II argues that strong enforcement mechanisms in these two jurisdictions, Madison, Wisconsin and Urbana, Illinois, are responsible for the success of their laws. Chapter III builds on Chapter II by proposing a new Federal law to protect the obese in the labor market. Because Chapter II points out serious flaws in the current Federal enforcement process, however, Chapter III also recommends changes to the Federal agency in charge of administering anti-discrimination laws. Chapter III argues that both a new Federal law and administrative changes to the Federal enforcement process are necessary to improve employment outcomes of the obese.