It’s not a secret that socioeconomic status, OK education, comes with a lot of pressure to stay slender. Or, as recent research at Vanderbilt University suggests, when if comes to weight, you are not just what you eat, you are who your friends are. Unless you are a man. A Vanderbilt news release reports that researchers at the school analyzed the relationship between an individual’s weight as measured by a visual evaluation, the socioeconomic status of the people they’re close to as measured by their educational attainment, lifestyle as measured by self-reported athleticism, and gender. While the researchers found no direct link between an individual’s weight and the socioeconomic status of their personal network, they did find an indirect one through lifestyle.
“Arguably, people with higher status are more weight-conscious, they’re more concerned about their own body image, they’re more likely to practice weight-related lifestyle such as dietary habits and physical activities and control their weight,” said researcher Lijun Song. “And if you are surrounded by people like that, you’re exposed to a stronger network norm of weight control. You’re more likely to become more conscious of your body weight, more likely to receive assistance with weight management, and are more likely to observe and imitate weight-control behaviors.”
The researchers found that people with a more educated personal network were more likely to describe themselves as athletic, which can lead to lower body weights, but curiously, they only found that true for women. Why?
“Women suffer more in terms of educational attainment,” said Song. “They suffer more in terms of occupational status and income and they suffer more in terms of finding a partner in their life. And women with higher socioeconomic status suffer even more. They have to face even more rigorous societal expectations. If they’re surrounded by people of high socioeconomic status, they’re going to face and conform to the body weight norm of slender femininity even more.”
For men, said Song, the reverse is true: Having higher-status contacts is associated with higher weights. The researchers theorize that while the slenderness ideal becomes increasingly rigid for women as their social contacts’ socioeconomic status increases, men may experience more social pressure to prove they are masculine breadwinners than concern about excess weight and weight control. So they may feel less inclined to practice a weight-conscious lifestyle, such as dieting or exercising, than women.