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Americans Don't Want Biases in Hiring Smokers, the Overweight

Americans Don't Want Biases in Hiring Smokers, the Overweight

by Elizabeth Mendes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than 8 in 10 Americans think it is not right for companies to refuse to hire people just because they are significantly overweight or smoke. Fourteen percent say the practice should be allowed for each.

Should companies be allowed to refuse to hire people because they are significantly overweight/they smoke, or not? July 2011 results

The views Americans express in the July 7-10 poll are essentially unchanged from prior Gallup readings on the same questions since 2005. In 2003, Gallup also found most Americans saying that if they were in a position to hire someone, it would make no difference to them if that person were overweight (79%) or smoked (74%).

While the new poll found that for the first time a majority of Americans want smoking to be banned in all public places, far fewer people support making it completely illegal in the United States. Taking all these findings about smoking together shows that Americans -- while generally in favor of not having others smoke around them -- appear mostly supportive of an individual's freedom of choice to use tobacco.

More Support for Higher Health Insurance Rates for Smokers, the Very Overweight

In contrast to the lack of support for hiring discrimination against smokers, the majority of Americans (60%) say it is justified to set higher health insurance rates for smokers. Thirty-eight percent say it is unjustified.

Similarly, Americans are more supportive of setting higher health insurance rates for people who are significantly overweight than they are of allowing companies not to hire such people (42% vs. 14%). However, the majority -- 57% -- say it is unjustified to set higher rates just because someone is very overweight.

Do you think it would be justified or unjustified to set higher health insurance rates for people who are significantly overweight/smoke? July 2011 results

Many more Americans are overweight than smoke, which partly explains their greater likelihood to support higher health insurance rates for smokers than to support higher rates for people who are very overweight. That is, Americans' views on the matter partly reflect their own personal situations.

Additionally, it may be that the direct connection between smoking and health costs is better established in people's minds than the link between being overweight and health costs. And charging higher life insurance rates for smokers is already a well-established practice, which may help make it more acceptable to people in the health insurance situation.

Interestingly, even 35% of smokers in the July 7-10 poll say it is justified to set higher health insurance rates for people who smoke. Another 57% of former smokers say the same.

Support Levels for Rate Hikes Reflect Socio-Economic Differences in Smoking, Weight

The differences in various groups' views on whether it is justified to set higher health insurance rates for people who smoke or are very overweight generally mirror socio-economic differences in smoking and obesity rates.

Higher-income and highly educated Americans -- who are less likely to be overweight and to smoke -- are more likely than low-income and less-educated people to say it is justified to set higher health insurance rates for smokers and for those who are significantly overweight.

Women Are More Compassionate Toward Very Overweight People

Women are significantly less likely than men to say it is justified to set higher health insurance rates for very overweight people and to think it is OK for companies to refuse to hire such individuals.

Gender Views Toward Significantly Overweight People, July 2011

This is a particularly striking point, as it is men who are more likely than women to be very overweight or obese.

Bottom Line

As companies across the United States face the challenge of maintaining a healthy, productive workforce and grapple with rising health insurance costs, corporate hiring policies and insurance rates for smokers and very overweight people are becoming prominent issues.

Americans are clear on one point, though -- they do not support allowing companies to discriminate against smokers or significantly overweight people when making hiring decisions. Whether a national consensus or corporate policy, however, has any impact on a specific hiring situation is a separate issue. The data confirm that if a man is making the hiring decision, he may be more likely than a woman to discriminate against a very overweight person -- similar to what Gallup has found in the past.

Americans are more divided when it comes to how to set health insurance rates for smokers and the very overweight. While a majority say it is justified to set higher rates for smokers, a similar majority says it is unjustified to do the same for significantly overweight people.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 7-10, 2011, with a random sample of 1,016 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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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

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