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Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility

  • Blanchflower, David G.

    ()

    (Dartmouth College)

  • Oswald, Andrew J.

    ()

    (University of Warwick)

  • van Landeghem, Bert

    ()

    (University of Sheffield)

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.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 4010.

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Length: 17 pages
Date of creation: Feb 2009
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Journal of the European Economic Association, 2009, 7(2-3), 528 - 538
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp4010
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