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Obesity, Disability, and Movement Onto the Disability Insurance Rolls


  • Richard V. Burkhauser

    (Cornell University)

  • John Cawley

    (Cornell University)


Between the early 1980s and 2002, both the prevalence of obesity and the number of beneficiaries of the Social Security Disability Insurance program doubled. We test whether these trends are related; specifically, we test whether obesity causes disability and movement onto the disability rolls. We estimate models of instrumental variables using two nationally representative data sets, the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 Cohort. The results are mixed but we find evidence that weight increases the probability of health-related work limitations and the probability of receiving disability related income. Our results suggest that the failure to treat obesity as endogenous leads to dramatic underestimates of the link between obesity and disability outcomes. Authors’ Acknowledgements We thank seminar participants at Ohio State University and the 2004 Conference of the Social Security Retirement Research Consortium for their helpful comments. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the University of Michigan Retirement Research Consortium and the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center at Cornell University. We thank Shuaizhang Feng for expert research assistance.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard V. Burkhauser & John Cawley, 2004. "Obesity, Disability, and Movement Onto the Disability Insurance Rolls," Working Papers wp089, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp089

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    Cited by:

    1. Richard Burkhauser & John Cawley, 2006. "The Importance of Objective Health Measures in Predicting Early Receipt of Social Security Benefits: The Case of Fatness," Working Papers wp148, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    2. Margareta Dackehag & Ulf-G. Gerdtham & Martin Nordin, 2015. "Productivity or discrimination? An economic analysis of excess-weight penalty in the Swedish labor market," The European Journal of Health Economics, Springer;Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gesundheitsökonomie (DGGÖ), vol. 16(6), pages 589-601, July.
    3. David Lempert, 2007. "Women's Increasing Wage Penalties from Being Overweight and Obese," Working Papers 414, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    4. Pagan, Ricardo & Haro, Carmen Ordóñez de & Sánchez, Carlos Rivas, 2016. "Obesity, job satisfaction and disability at older ages in Europe," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 20(C), pages 42-54.
    5. Burkhauser, Richard V. & Cawley, John, 2008. "Beyond BMI: The value of more accurate measures of fatness and obesity in social science research," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 519-529, March.
    6. Greve, Jane, 2008. "Obesity and labor market outcomes in Denmark," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 350-362, December.
    7. Oswald, Andrew J & Powdthavee, Nattavudh, 2007. "Obesity, Unhappiness, and The Challenge of Affluence : Theory and Evidence," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 793, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    8. Olivier Bargain & Jinan Zeidan, 2014. "The Direct Effect of Obesity on Emotional Well-Being: Evidence from Mexico," AMSE Working Papers 1432, Aix-Marseille School of Economics, Marseille, France, revised 16 Jul 2014.
    9. Lindeboom, Maarten & Lundborg, Petter & van der Klaauw, Bas, 2010. "Assessing the impact of obesity on labor market outcomes," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 309-319, December.
    10. Xiaoyan Li & Nicole Maestas, 2008. "Does the Rise in the Full Retirement Age Encourage Disability Benefits Applications? Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," Working Papers wp198, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    11. Renna, F. & Thakur, Nidhi, 2010. "Direct and indirect effects of obesity on U.S. labor market outcomes of older working age adults," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 405-413, July.

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