Health Situation May Present Barrier for Many Job Seekers

by Elizabeth Mendes

Twenty-two percent of Americans smoke and 45% say they are "very" or "somewhat" overweight

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- If you are looking for work and you either smoke or are overweight, you may face a tougher time getting hired. About one in four Americans say they would be "less likely" to hire a person if they found out that he or she smoked. Nearly one in five say the same about hiring an overweight person.


The large majority of Americans say a person's smoking habits or weight would make no difference to them in a hiring situation. These results are based on the attitudes of all Americans, few of whom are actually in a position to make a hiring decision, so it is not clear to what extent hiring discrimination occurs based on smoking or weight. But at a time when jobs are scarce and employers are hesitant to hire, the sizable minority of Americans who say they personally would discriminate based on these health factors suggests general norms that could at some point trickle down to the actual hiring process.

Even though companies face more pressure today to decrease their healthcare costs compared with the beginning of the decade, the percentage of Americans who say they would be less likely to hire a person based on these health factors is the same as when Gallup last asked the question in 2003. Over the same time period, the number of Americans who think secondhand smoke is "very harmful" has also remained essentially the same, with 55% saying so this year. Another 44% of Americans want a total ban on smoking in the workplace, unchanged from last year, but a figure that has increased significantly over the past two decades. In the same July 8-11 poll, 22% of Americans identified themselves as smokers and 45% say they are "very" or "somewhat" overweight.

Bottom Line

Despite some Americans' stated bias against hiring a person who smokes or is overweight, the legality of them actually doing so is not so straightforward. Many states have laws that protect smokers' rights, but some do not, and the federal anti-discrimination law contains no specific language regarding smoking. The legal viability of not hiring someone based on his or her weight is even more ambiguous. However, with employers becoming increasingly sensitive to individuals' healthcare costs, applicant health habits may be even more pertinent in the future.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 8-11, 2010, with a random sample of 1,020 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.

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