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Body Mass Index and Women's Work Hours in the United States: Much Ado about (practically) Nothing


  • Jennifer A. Ball

    (Washburn University)


Most research in the area of economics and obesity attempts to identify the cause(s) of the increase in the average body mass index (BMI) in developed countries. Common themes include lower relative food prices, technological advances that have led to more sedentary work and leisure activities and a larger number of ready-to-eat food products for sale, a cultural shift toward greater discounting of the future, and an increase in the consumption of restaurant and other prepared foods due to the rise in women's labor force participation. This paper includes a survey of the literature regarding women's work behavior and their children's BMIs, and it also contains an analysis of data regarding the children of the female respondents to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) from 1996 to 2006 to confirm earlier findings. Missing from the literature are analyses of women's work hours and their own BMIs, and women's work hours and their husbands' BMIs, so this paper also includes analysis of data provided by the respondents of the NLSY79 from 1996 to 2006 to explore these relationships. The results show there is little evidence women's increased participation in the labor force is a significant contributor to higher BMIs in the United States.

Suggested Citation

  • Jennifer A. Ball, 2010. "Body Mass Index and Women's Work Hours in the United States: Much Ado about (practically) Nothing," Journal of Economic Insight (formerly the Journal of Economics (MVEA)), Missouri Valley Economic Association, vol. 36(1), pages 9-28.
  • Handle: RePEc:mve:journl:v:36:y:2010:i:1:p:9-28

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination


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