Food Deserts and the Causes of Nutritional Inequality
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.
Previously "The Geography of Poverty and Nutrition: Food Deserts and Food Choices Across the United States." We thank Prottoy Aman Akbar, Yue Cao, Hae Nim Lee, and Catherine Wright for exceptional research assistance; Charles Courtemanche, Sungho Park, and Andrea Carlson for sharing data; and Marianne Bitler, Anne Case, David Cuberes, Amanda Chuan, Janet Currie, Jan De Loecker, Gilles Duranton, Joe Gyourko, Jakub Kastl, Ephriam Liebtag, Ilyana Kuziemko, Todd Sinai, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Jesse Shapiro, Tom Vogl, and David Weinstein for helpful comments. We also thank seminar participants at Amazon, the 2015 and 2017 ASSA Meetings, the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago, Brown, Columbia, Duke, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the Federal Trade Commission, Microsoft Research, the 2015 and 2016 NBER Summer Institutes, New York University, the Paris School of Economics, Penn State, Princeton, the Pritzker School of Medicine, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Stanford, Temple, Toronto, the Tilburg Christmas Research Camp, the University of New South Wales, the University of Pennsylvania, USC Marshall, the USDA, the University of Sydney, the 2014 Urban Economics Association Meeting, Warwick, Wharton, and Yale SOM. We are grateful for funding from the Chicago Booth Initiative on Global Markets, the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, the Research Sponsors' Program of the Wharton Zell-Lurie Real Estate Center, and the USDA Economic Research Service. This paper reflects the researchers' own analyses calculated based in part on data from The Nielsen Company (US), LLC and marketing databases provided through the Nielsen Datasets at the Kilts Center for Marketing Data Center at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The conclusions drawn from the Nielsen data are those of the researchers and do not reflect the views of Nielsen. Nielsen is not responsible for, had no role in, and was not involved in analyzing and preparing the results reported herein. The findings and conclusions in this preliminary publication have not been formally disseminated by the USDA and should not be construed to represent any agency determination or policy. This paper subsumes and replaces our previous work, Handbury, Rahkovsky and Schnell (2015) and Allcott, Diamond and Dub e (2017). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- Exposing low-income households to the same food-buying opportunities available to higher-income households would reduce nutritional...
Hunt Allcott & Rebecca Diamond & Jean-Pierre Dubé & Jessie Handbury & Ilya Rahkovsky & Molly Schnell, 2019. "Food Deserts and the Causes of Nutritional Inequality*," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol 134(4), pages 1793-1844. citation courtesy of