Obesity as a Barrier to the Transition from Welfare to Work

John Cawley, Sheldon Danziger

NBER Working Paper No. 10508
Issued in May 2004
NBER Program(s):Health Economics, Labor Studies

This paper utilizes a rich longitudinal data set -- the Women's Employment Study (WES) to investigate whether obesity, which is common among women of low socioeconomic status, is a barrier to employment and earnings for current and former welfare recipients. We find evidence that, among current and former welfare recipients, high body weight is a greater barrier to labor market success for white women than for African-American women. Among white women, we consistently find a negative correlation between weight and labor market outcomes such as employment, hours worked, and earnings. Among African American women, weight is not correlated with employment, hours worked, or earnings, but it is correlated with the percentage of months spent on welfare between interviews. We provide suggestive evidence that these differences between white and African-American women in the relationship between body weight and labor market outcomes are partly due to differential weight-based discrimination in employment.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w10508

Published: Cawley, John, and Sheldon Danziger. "Morbid Obesity and the Transition From Welfare to Work." Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Fall 2005, 24(4): 727-743.

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