On Numbers


Supposedly women who make it to the top of their career ladders are also the skinniest.

The media’s claiming that women at the top are “the only social group to lose weight while every one else is getting fatter.” (See here.)

But what’s this statement really saying: Are skinny women in upper management because they’re skinny? Or are they skinny because they’re in upper management? Does any of this matter?

I would say given the general importance given to appearances (in media/society etc.) I would not be surprised if the numbers supported that women in upper management are also more likely to be conventionally good-looking. And men are not immune to this either.

The second question – “are they skinny because they’re in upper management?” poses a different and more critical angle. Essentially asking, is being skinny a sign of success for these accomplished women? The dailymailwrites “Modern women pride themselves on being able to juggle a career and a family while still looking good.” This all seems to turn back to the same old debate (see the very popular: why women still can’t have it all).

I am not here argue if they can or can’t (coles note version of my opinion: no one, men nor women, ‘can have it all,’ determine what your top three priority-lifewants are and work really hard to “have” those.)

In fact I really want to talk about the last question – Does any of this matter? Of course, the purpose of any good research with solid research methods and analysis is to inform in a non-bias manner and encourage discourse.  However, this discourse centers in on one part of the findings adds to the obsession about appearances and takes away from the true message of such research.


In fact I found this  article re-published/cited in multiple places (see here,herehere) – but still cannot find a link to the National Obesity Observatory research publication and the supporting data to justify this claim: “women who make it to the top of their career ladders are also the skinniest.” The analysis should compare not only men and women but the study should drill down the numbers and compare women in “high-status” jobs to men of similar ranks. Was the study longitudinal? Cross-sectional? I can make some better judgements about the findings knowing these details! But I can’t seem to find this study (if you can please send me the link!).

I guess I’ll believe the claim once I see the numbers.


What do you think? If women in high-rank jobs/careers are in fact skinnier – what does is this claim actually saying? Do you believe this is true?

Divya Pahwa writes about young-lady career advice in the weekly series Pursuit, on the  McGill Caps Blog.