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Food Deserts and the Causes of Nutritional Inequality

Author

Listed:
  • Hunt Allcott
  • Rebecca Diamond
  • Jean-Pierre Dubé
  • Jessie Handbury
  • Ilya Rahkovsky
  • Molly Schnell

Abstract

We study the causes of “nutritional inequality”: why the wealthy eat more healthfully than the poor in the United States. Exploiting supermarket entry, household moves to healthier neighborhoods, and purchasing patterns among households with identical local supply, we reject that neighborhood environments contribute meaningfully to nutritional inequality. Using a structural demand model, we find that exposing low-income households to the same products and prices available to high-income households reduces nutritional inequality by only nine percent, while the remaining 91 percent is driven by differences in demand. These findings counter the common notion that policies to reduce supply inequities, such as “food deserts,” could play an important role in reducing nutritional inequality. By contrast, the structural results predict that means-tested subsidies for healthy food could eliminate nutritional inequality at a fiscal cost of about 15 percent of the annual budget for the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Suggested Citation

  • Hunt Allcott & Rebecca Diamond & Jean-Pierre Dubé & Jessie Handbury & Ilya Rahkovsky & Molly Schnell, 2017. "Food Deserts and the Causes of Nutritional Inequality," NBER Working Papers 24094, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:24094
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Richard A. Dunn, 2010. "The Effect of Fast-Food Availability on Obesity: An Analysis by Gender, Race, and Residential Location," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1149-1164.
    2. Pierre Dubois & Rachel Griffith & Aviv Nevo, 2014. "Do Prices and Attributes Explain International Differences in Food Purchases?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(3), pages 832-867, March.
    3. Janet Currie & Stefano DellaVigna & Enrico Moretti & Vikram Pathania, 2010. "The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity and Weight Gain," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 32-63, August.
    4. Bart J. Bronnenberg & Jean-Pierre H. Dube & Matthew Gentzkow, 2012. "The Evolution of Brand Preferences: Evidence from Consumer Migration," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(6), pages 2472-2508, October.
    5. Charles Courtemanche & Art Carden, 2014. "Competing with Costco and Sam's Club: Warehouse Club Entry and Grocery Prices," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 565-585, January.
    6. John Cawley & Chad Meyerhoefer & Adam Biener & Mette Hammer & Neil Wintfeld, 2015. "Savings in Medical Expenditures Associated with Reductions in Body Mass Index Among US Adults with Obesity, by Diabetes Status," PharmacoEconomics, Springer, vol. 33(7), pages 707-722, July.
    7. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2012.300865_0 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. David Atkin & Benjamin Faber & Marco Gonzalez-Navarro, 2018. "Retail Globalization and Household Welfare: Evidence from Mexico," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 126(1), pages 1-73.
    9. Douglas J. Besharov & Marianne Bitler & Steven J. Haider, 2011. "An economic view of food deserts in the united states," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 30(1), pages 153-176, December.
    10. Kaufman, Phillip R. & MacDonald, James M. & Lutz, Steve M. & Smallwood, David M., 1997. "Do the Poor Pay More for Food? Item Selection and Price Differences Affect Low-Income Household Food Costs," Agricultural Economics Reports 34065, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Noriko Amano, 2018. "Nutrition Inequality: The Role of Prices, Income, and Preferences," 2018 Meeting Papers 453, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    2. Amano-Patiño, N., 2019. "Nutritional Inequality: The Role of Prices, Income, and Preferences," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1909, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    3. Cook, Cody & Diamond, Rebecca & Hall, Jonathan & List, John A. & Oyer, Paul, 2018. "The Gender Earnings Gap in the Gig Economy: Evidence from over a Million Rideshare Drivers," Research Papers repec:ecl:stabus:3637, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I14 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Inequality
    • L81 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Retail and Wholesale Trade; e-Commerce
    • R20 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - General

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