Courtesy of Cornell University

Prof. Kevin Kniffin, along with two other professors in applied economics and management, conducted a study revealing that overweight men in the workplace are perceived as more persuasive.

February 20, 2020

Being Overweight and Male Poses an Advantage at Work, Cornell Study Says

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Correction appended.

In the workplace, men who are overweight may be perceived as more persuasive than their “normal weight” peers, a Cornell study found.

 A November 2019 study by the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management showed that overweight men in the workplace tend to be more persuasive than their female counterparts.

The team, led by applied economics and management professors Kevin Kniffin, Vicki Bogan and David Just, conducted six different studies using 141 participants’ data from a questionnaire, asking participants to rate some of the behaviors they engage in at the workplace, including “being a convincing speaker.”

 The study explained that overweight men are perceived as more persuasive at the workplace, a tendency that does not appear to hold for women. The researchers established that overweight women are often expected to have a “better sense of humor,” but persuasiveness does not carry the same expectation.

 “Gaining a better sense of what associations people make that should be irrelevant can help to improve future decision making,” Kniffin told The Sun in an email.

 In most western cultures, ideas surrounding being overweight do not carry a positive connotation. However, with persuasiveness, people have the tendency to perceive most overweight or obese men to have distinct leadership skills and an apparent “positive contribution,” the study found. 

Previous studies have observed height as being a predictor in other people’s perceptions of their ability to take on leadership roles. Specifically, these studies highlight tallness as favorable when it comes to success at the workplace.

Despite these findings highlighting a benefit for overweight men, weight discrimination continues to be a major issue.

 A study by researchers from the University of California and the University of Vermont explain that media messages play a critical role among the perception of overweight individuals, making them more preoccupied with their appearance and its stigma. 

 Although this study brings a new perspective on overweight men, the researchers emphasized that men should not aim to gain weight if their intention is to become more persuasive.

“Our studies do invite closer recognition of benefits that might accrue alongside costs when people carry above-normal weight,” the Cornell researchers wrote. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the schools the professors of the study are affiliated with. The professors are affiliated with the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, not the S.C. Johnson College of Business. An earlier version of this article also misattributed a quote to Kniffin. The quote was by a HuffPost author, not Kniffin. The article has since been updated.