IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

You can be too thin (but not too tall): social desirability bias in self-reports of weight and height

Listed author(s):
  • Burke, Mary A.

    ()

    (Federal Reserve Bank of Boston)

  • Carman, Katherine Grace

    ()

    (RAND Corporation)

Registered author(s):

    Previous studies of survey data for the United States and other countries find that on average women tend to understate their body weight, while on average both men and women overstate their height. Social norms have been posited as a potential explanation for misreporting of weight and height, but researchers disagree on the validity of that explanation. This paper is the first to present a theoretical model of self-reporting behavior for weight and height that explicitly incorporates social desirability bias. The model generates testable implications that can be contrasted with predictions based on alternative explanations for self-reporting errors. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1990–2010, we find that self-reporting patterns for both weight and body mass index (BMI) offer robust evidence of social desirability bias, such that reports are biased (from both sides) towards social norms. The BMI norm inferred for women lies squarely within the range considered “healthy” by public health officials, while the BMI norm inferred for men lies just above this healthy range. Lack of awareness of one’s current body weight may explain the presence of large (negative) self-reporting errors among those with very high values of examined weight, but the evidence of social desirability bias is robust to this alternative explanation over most of the weight distribution. Social desirability bias in self-reporting of height is observed primarily among those of below-average height and no clear height norms are discernible. The framework also helps to explain previous findings that the degree of self-reporting bias in weight depends on the survey mode.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL: https://www.bostonfed.org/publications/research-department-working-paper/2016/you-can-be-too-thin-but-not-too-tall-social-desirability-bias-in-self-reports-of-weight-and-height.aspx
    File Function: Summary
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL: https://www.bostonfed.org/-/media/Documents/Workingpapers/PDF/wp1615.pdf
    File Function: Full text
    Download Restriction: no

    Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in its series Working Papers with number 16-15.

    as
    in new window

    Length: 48 pages
    Date of creation: 15 Aug 2016
    Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:16-15
    Contact details of provider: Postal:
    600 Atlantic Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02210

    Phone: 617-973-3397
    Fax: 617-973-4221
    Web page: http://www.bos.frb.org/
    Email:


    More information through EDIRC

    Order Information: Email:


    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

    as
    in new window


    1. Cawley, John & Maclean, Johanna Catherine & Hammer, Mette & Wintfeld, Neil, 2015. "Reporting error in weight and its implications for bias in economic models," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 27-44.
    2. Ivar Krumpal, 2013. "Determinants of social desirability bias in sensitive surveys: a literature review," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 47(4), pages 2025-2047, June.
    3. Courtemanche, Charles & Pinkston, Joshua C. & Stewart, Jay, 2015. "Adjusting body mass for measurement error with invalid validation data," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 275-293.
    4. Gil, Joan & Mora, Toni, 2011. "The determinants of misreporting weight and height: The role of social norms," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 78-91, January.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:16-15. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Catherine Spozio)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.