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Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility

  • David G. Blanchflower
  • Andrew J. Oswald
  • Bert Van Landeghem

If human beings care about their relative weight, a form of imitative obesity can emerge (in which people subconsciously keep up with the weight of the Joneses). Using Eurobarometer data on 29 countries, this paper provides cross-sectional evidence that overweight perceptions and dieting are influenced by a person's relative BMI, and longitudinal evidence from the German Socioeconomic Panel that well-being is influenced by relative BMI. Highly educated people see themselves as fatter-at any given actual weight-than those with low education. These results should be treated cautiously, and fixed-effects estimates are not always well determined, but there are grounds to take seriously the possibility of socially contagious obesity. (JEL: D1, I12, I31) (c) 2009 by the European Economic Association.

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Article provided by MIT Press in its journal Journal of the European Economic Association.

Volume (Year): 7 (2009)
Issue (Month): 2-3 (04-05)
Pages: 528-538

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Handle: RePEc:tpr:jeurec:v:7:y:2009:i:2-3:p:528-538
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