The Economic Reality of the Beauty Myth
NBER Working Paper No. 4521
We investigate income, marital status, and hourly pay differentials by body mass (kg/m2) in a sample of 23 to 31 year olds drawn from the 1988 NLSY. Obese women have lower family incomes than women whose weight-for-height is in the 'recommended' range. Results for men are weaker and mixed. We find similar results when we compare same-sex siblings in order to control for family background (e.g., social class) differences. Differences in economic status by body mass for women increase markedly when we use an earlier weight measure or restrict the sample to persons who were single and childless when the early weight was reported. There is some evidence of labor market discrimination against obese women. However, differences in marriage probabilities and in spouse's earnings account for 50 to 95 percent of their lower economic status. There is no evidence that obese African American women suffer an economic penalty relative to other African American women.
Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w4521
Published: Journal of Human Resources, Spring 1996 citation courtesy of
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