Direct and indirect effects of body weight on adult wages

Euna Han, Edward C. Norton, Lisa M. Powell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


Previous estimates of the association between body weight and wages in the literature have been conditional on education and occupation. In addition to the effect of current body weight status (body mass index (BMI) or obesity) on wages, this paper examines the indirect effect of body weight status in the late-teenage years on wages operating through education and occupation choice. Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 data, for women, we find that a one-unit increase in BMI is directly associated with 1.83% lower hourly wages whereas the indirect BMI wage penalty is not statistically significant. Neither a direct nor an indirect BMI wage penalty is found for men. However, results based on clinical weight classification reveal that the indirect wage penalty occurs to a larger extent at the upper tail of the BMI distribution for both men and women via the pathways of education and occupation outcomes. Late-teen obesity is indirectly associated with 3.5% lower hourly wages for both women and men. These results are important because they imply that the total effect of obesity on wages is significantly larger than has been estimated in previous cross-sectional studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-392
Number of pages12
JournalEconomics and Human Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Dec

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Han and Powell gratefully acknowledge research support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the Bridging the Gap program for the ImpacTeen project.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


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