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Where Does the Wage Penalty Bite?

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  • Christian A. Gregory
  • Christopher J. Ruhm

Abstract

The literature examining the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and wages has fairly consistently found that BMI has a negative impact on earnings for women, and less (if any) consequences for men. In this paper, we relax the assumption -- largely unquestioned in this research -- that the conditional mean of wages is linear or piecewise linear in body mass index (BMI). Using data from the 1986 and 1999-2005 Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we estimate semi-parametric wage models that allow earnings to vary with BMI in a highly flexible manner. For women, the results show that earnings peak at levels far below the clinical threshold of "obesity" or even "overweight". For men, our main estimates suggest a reasonably flat BMI-wage profile that peaks early in the "overweight" category. However, the results of instrumental variables (IV) models or specifications focusing on long-lags of BMI are more similar to those for women. The findings for females (and the IV estimates for males) suggest that it is not obesity but rather some other factor -- such as physical attractiveness -- that produces the observed relationship between BMI and wages. We also provide non-parametric estimates of the association between BMI and health expenditures, using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. These cast further doubt on the hypothesis that the wage penalties associated with increasing BMI occur because the latter serve as an index for underlying medical costs.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14984.

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Date of creation: May 2009
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Publication status: published as Where Does the Wage Penalty Bite? , Christian A. Gregory, Christopher J. Ruhm. in Economic Aspects of Obesity , Grossman and Mocan. 2011
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14984

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Cited by:
  1. Sonia Oreffice & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2012. "Fat spouses and hours of work: are body and Pareto weights correlated?," IZA Journal of Labor Economics, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 1-21, December.
  2. Roy Wada & Erdal Tekin, 2007. "Body Composition and Wages," NBER Working Papers 13595, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Pierre Chiapore & Climent Quintana Domeque & Sonia Oreffice, 2010. "Fatter attraction: anthropometric and socieconomic matching on the marriage market," Working Papers. Serie AD 2010-23, Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Económicas, S.A. (Ivie).
  4. Charles Courtemanche & Joshua C. Pinkston & Jay Stewart, 2014. "Adjusting Body Mass for Measurement Error with Invalid Validation Data," NBER Working Papers 19928, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Chiappori, Pierre-André & Oreffice, Sonia & Quintana-Domeque, Climent, 2011. "Black-White Marital Matching: Race, Anthropometrics, and Socioeconomics," IZA Discussion Papers 6196, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Oreffice, Sonia & Quintana-Domeque, Climent, 2010. "Anthropometry and socioeconomics among couples: Evidence in the United States," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 373-384, December.
  7. Chiappori, Pierre-André & Oreffice, Sonia & Quintana-Domeque, Climent, 2009. "Fatter Attraction: Anthropometric and Socioeconomic Characteristics in the Marriage Market," IZA Discussion Papers 4594, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Scott A. Carson, 2013. "US Male Obesity from 1800-2000: A Long Term Perspective," CESifo Working Paper Series 4366, CESifo Group Munich.
  9. Sonia Oreffice & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2012. "A Matter of Weight? The Role of Spouses. Physical Attractiveness on Hours of Work," CHILD Working Papers Series 7, Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic Economics (CHILD) - CCA.
  10. Averett, Susan L. & Argys, Laura & Kohn, Jennifer L., 2012. "Immigration, Obesity and Labor Market Outcomes in the UK," IZA Discussion Papers 6454, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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