Effects of Obesity Across the Distribution of Earnings for Young Women

Monday, June 23, 2014: 1:15 PM
Von KleinSmid 102 (Von KleinSmid Center)

Author(s): Timothy Classen

Discussant: Sarah Bohn

The relationship of obesity to labor market outcomes has received much attention over the last decade as rates of obesity have risen to unprecedented levels while wages at the middle and lower end of the earnings distribution have stagnated for workers in the United States.  A majority of the prior research on this topic measured the effect of obesity on wages for workers near the middle of the wage distribution and generally found significant wage penalties for obese female workers.  Our research approach measures the effect of obesity on wages for early-career females at numerous points across the distribution of income to discern whether the relationship differs for high or low wage workers and across occupations.  Using data from the most recent wave of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health), we capture earnings for women in their late 20’s and early 30’s and use measured weight and height (as opposed to self-reported) to generate measures of Body Mass Index for indication of obesity.  Employing quantile regression estimation techniques, we find the largest negative effects of obesity on earnings for women in the upper quartile of the income distribution.  This is largely driven by the results for white females and those in white collar occupations.  We find weaker evidence of wage penalties among obese Hispanic females and no significant differences in wages across numerous quantiles for obese African American females relative to those with weight in the recommended range of Body Mass Index.  Our results suggest that the negative effect of elevated weight levels on female earnings is concentrated at higher income levels and in higher skilled occupations.