updated 5/24/2011 11:00:44 AM ET 2011-05-24T15:00:44

Packing a few extra pounds can hurt a woman's salary and even her ability to get a job, mounting research shows. Yet while women tend to get penalized by the pound, men don't, and perhaps they even gain from girth.

The effect has been found in the United States and elsewhere.

Using data collected in Iceland, one new study examined the association between excess weight and employment. The study found a slightly negative correlation between weight and the employment rate of women, and a slightly positive correlation for men. The results were published in the March issue of the journal Elsevier's Economics and Human Biology.

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Iceland was selected because it has the greatest level of gender equality in terms of health, education, business opportunities and political participation, according to a World Economic Forum study of 134 countries.

A 2009 study in the United States, which then ranked 31st in terms of gender equality, also found weight can be a drag on a woman’s earnings.

"There does seem to be a penalty for women," said University of Michigan professor Edward Norton, who conducted that study. Overweight women "seem to be paid less."

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No heavy penalty for men

As was the case in Iceland, Norton said his study suggested the same penalties were not imposed on overweight men.

"The general finding is that there is not much effect for men," he said. "If anything, larger men were paid more."

Norton added he's not surprised that the results of the Icelandic survey were so similar to his.

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"There is something in western society that seems to penalize women for being overweight," he said.

A separate study conducted by University of Florida researchers found that women 25 pounds above average weight earned $13,847 less a year than an average-weight female.

Fit to work

The research suggests it's important for the unemployed to stay fit during the job search, said Adam Gilbert, the founder of My Body Tutor, an online personal-training service.

"It is a very worthwhile investment," he said. "The better you look and the better you feel, there's more of a likelihood you are going to be getting a job."

With so much to lose financially, Gilbert said there is no reason to not making staying fit a priority. Nutrition and health experts caution against fad diets.

"The key to getting the body you want is staying consistent with your diet and exercise," he said.  "It isn't rocket science; it's just about doing it day in and day out."

Gilbert also stressed not to tackle too much dieting or exercising too soon.

"Take baby steps," he said. "Anything is possible in bite-size chunks."

For example, Gilbert suggested not concentrating on the things you can't have, like ice cream, while dieting. "Focus on what you can replace ice cream with," he said. "Maybe it's yogurt or fruit."

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