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When does weight matter most?


  • Chen, Alice J.


Past empirical work establishes a wage penalty from being overweight. In this paper, I exploit variation in an individual's weight over time to determine the age when weight has the largest impact on labor market outcomes. For white men, controlling for weight at younger ages does not eliminate the effect of older adult weight on wage: being overweight as a young adult only adds an additional penalty to adult wages. However, for white women, what they weigh in their early twenties solely determines the existence of an adult wage penalty. The female early-twenties weight penalty has a persistent effect on wages, and differences in marital characteristics, occupation status, or education cannot explain it. It also is not a proxy for intergenerational unobservables.

Suggested Citation

  • Chen, Alice J., 2012. "When does weight matter most?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 285-295.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jhecon:v:31:y:2012:i:1:p:285-295
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2011.11.002

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Donna Gilleskie & Euna Han & Edward Norton, 2017. "Disentangling the Contemporaneous and Dynamic Effects of Human and Health Capital on Wages over the Life Cycle"," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 25, pages 350-383, April.
    2. Frieder Kropfhäußer & Marco Sunder, 2014. "A Weighty Issue Revisited: The Dynamic Effect of Body Weight on Earnings and Satisfaction in Germany," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 635, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    3. Kropfhäußer, Frieder & Sunder, Marco, 2013. "A weighty issue revisited: the dynamic effect of body weight on earnings and satisfaction in Germany," Annual Conference 2013 (Duesseldorf): Competition Policy and Regulation in a Global Economic Order 79895, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    4. Pinkston, Joshua C., 2017. "The dynamic effects of obesity on the wages of young workers," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 27(PA), pages 154-166.
    5. Lee, Wang-Sheng, 2014. "Big and Tall: Is there a Height Premium or Obesity Penalty in the Labor Market?," IZA Discussion Papers 8606, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item


    Overweight; Wage; Weight penalty development;

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs


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