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Women’s Increasing Wage Penalties from Being Overweight and Obese

David Lempert


This paper first utilizes annual surveys between the 1981 and 2000 waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to estimate the effect of being overweight on hourly wages. Previous studies have shown that white women are the only race-gender group for which weight has a statistically significant effect on wages. This paper finds a statistically significant continual increase in the wage penalty for overweight and obese white women followed throughout two decades. A supporting analysis from a cross-sectional dataset, comprised of the 1987 National Medical Expenditure Survey and the 2000 and 2004 waves of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, also shows an increasing wage penalty. The bias against weight has increased, despite drastic increases in the rate of obesity in the United States. Alternatively, the increasing rarity of thinness has led to its rising premium.