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Crime and Body Weight in the Nineteenth Century: Was there a Relationship between Brawn, Employment Opportunities and Crime?

  • Howard Bodenhorn
  • Gregory Price

This paper considers the extent to which crime in the 19th century was conditioned on body weight. With data on inmates incarcerated in the Tennessee and Illinois state penitentiaries between 1831 and 1892, we estimate the parameters of Wiebull proportional hazard specifications of the individual crime hazard. Our results reveal that consistent with a theory in which body weight can be a source of labor market disadvantage, crime in the 19th century does appear to have been conditioned on body weight. However, in contrast to the 20th century, in which labor market disadvantage increases with respect to body weight, in the 19th century labor market disadvantage decreased with respect to body weight, causing individual crime hazards to decrease with respect to body weight. We find that such a relationship is consistent with a 19th century complementarity between body weight and typical jobs that required adequate nutrition and caloric intake to support normal work effort and performance.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15099.

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Date of creation: Jun 2009
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15099
Note: DAE LS
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  1. Carson, Scott Alan, 2007. "Mexican body mass index values in the late-19th-century American West," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 37-47, March.
  2. Naci Mocan & Erdal Tekin, 2010. "Ugly Criminals," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(1), pages 15-30, February.
  3. Nicola Persico & Andrew Postlewaite & Dan Silverman, 2004. "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height," NBER Working Papers 10522, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Richard V. Burkhauser & John Cawley & Maximilian D. Schmeiser, 2009. "Differences in the U.S. Trends in the Prevalence of Obesity Based on Body Mass Index and Skinfold Thickness," NBER Working Papers 15005, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Gary S. Becker, 1968. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 169.
  6. John Cawley & Sheldon Danziger, 2005. "Morbid obesity and the transition from welfare to work," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(4), pages 727-743.
  7. Robert W. Fogel, 1994. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," NBER Working Papers 4638, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Kwabena Gyimah-Brempong & Gregory N. Price, 2006. "Crime and Punishment: And Skin Hue Too?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 246-250, May.
  9. Hamermesh, Daniel S & Biddle, Jeff E, 1994. "Beauty and the Labor Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(5), pages 1174-94, December.
  10. Price, Gregory N. & Darity Jr., William A. & Headen Jr., Alvin E., 2008. "Does the stigma of slavery explain the maltreatment of blacks by whites: The case of lynchings," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 167-193, February.
  11. Morris, Stephen, 2006. "Body mass index and occupational attainment," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 347-364, March.
  12. Susan Averett & Sanders Korenman, 1996. "The Economic Reality of the Beauty Myth," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 31(2), pages 304-330.
  13. Euna Han & Edward C. Norton & Sally C. Stearns, 2009. "Weight and wages: fat versus lean paychecks," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(5), pages 535-548.
  14. John Cawley, 2004. "The Impact of Obesity on Wages," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(2).
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