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For better or worse: Relationship status and body mass index

  • Averett, Susan L.
  • Sikora, Asia
  • Argys, Laura M.

Recent increases in the incidence of obesity and declines in marriage have prompted policymakers to implement policies to mitigate these trends. This paper examines the link between these two outcomes. There are four hypotheses (selection, protection, social obligation and marriage market) that might explain the relationship between marital status transitions and changes in Body Mass Index (BMI). The selection hypothesis suggests that those with a lower BMI are more likely to be selected into marriage. The protection hypothesis states that married adults will have better physical health as a result of the increased social support and reduced incidence of risky behavior among married individuals. The social obligation hypothesis states that those in relationships may eat more regular meals and/or richer and denser foods due to social obligations which may arise because of marriage. Finally, the marriage market hypothesis indicates that when adults are no longer in the marriage market they may not maintain a healthy BMI because doing so is costly and they are in a stable union--or on the other hand, adults may enhance their prospects in the marriage market by losing weight. Taking advantage of longitudinal data and complete marriage histories in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, we estimate individual fixed effects models to examine associations between the change in log BMI and the incidence of overweight and obesity, and changes in relationship status controlling for the effects of aging and other respondent characteristics. We find no support for the marriage protection hypothesis. Rather we find evidence supporting the social obligation and marriage market hypotheses--BMI increases for both men and women during marriage and in the course of a cohabiting relationship. Separate analyses by race and ethnicity reveal substantial differences in the response of BMI to relationship status across these groups.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Economics & Human Biology.

Volume (Year): 6 (2008)
Issue (Month): 3 (December)
Pages: 330-349

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Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:6:y:2008:i:3:p:330-349
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622964

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  1. Nabanita Datta Gupta & Nina Smith & Leslie S. Stratton, 2007. "Is Marriage Poisonous? Are Relationships Taxing? An Analysis of the Male Marital Wage Differential in Denmark," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 412-433, October.
  2. Audrey Light, 2003. "Gender Differences in the Marriage and Cohabitation Income Premium," Working Papers 03-04, Ohio State University, Department of Economics.
  3. Leslie S. Stratton, 2002. "Examining the Wage Differential for Married and Cohabiting Men," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 40(2), pages 199-212, April.
  4. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1, October.
  5. Daniel Lichter & Zhenchao Qian & Leanna Mellott, 2006. "Marriage or dissolution? Union transitions among poor cohabiting women," Demography, Springer, vol. 43(2), pages 223-240, May.
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  7. Waldron, Ingrid & Hughes, Mary Elizabeth & Brooks, Tracy L., 1996. "Marriage protection and marriage selection--Prospective evidence for reciprocal effects of marital status and health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 113-123, July.
  8. Kate Antonovics & Robert Town, 2004. "Are All the Good Men Married? Uncovering the Sources of the Marital Wage Premium," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 317-321, May.
  9. Joni Hersch & Leslie S. Stratton, 2000. "Household Specialization and the Male Marriage Wage Premium," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 54(1), pages 78-94, October.
  10. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2004. "Well-being over time in Britain and the USA," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1359-1386, July.
  11. Chun, Hyunbae & Lee, Injae, 2001. "Why Do Married Men Earn More: Productivity or Marriage Selection?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 39(2), pages 307-19, April.
  12. Burkhauser, Richard V. & Cawley, John, 2008. "Beyond BMI: The value of more accurate measures of fatness and obesity in social science research," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 519-529, March.
  13. Sobal, Jeffery & Rauschenbach, Barbara & Frongillo, Edward A., 2003. "Marital status changes and body weight changes: a US longitudinal analysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(7), pages 1543-1555, April.
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