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The impact of body weight on occupational mobility and career development

Harris, Matthew (2015): The impact of body weight on occupational mobility and career development.

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Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between individuals' weight and their employment decisions over the life cycle. I estimate a dynamic stochastic model of individuals' annual joint decisions of occupation, hours worked, and schooling. The model allows body weight to affect non-monetary costs, switching costs, and distribution of wages for each occupation; and also allows individuals' employment decisions to affect body weight. I use conditional density estimation to formulate the distributions of wages and body weight evolution. I find that heavier individuals face higher switching costs when transitioning into white collar occupations, earn lower returns to experience in white-collar occupations, and earn lower wages in socially intensive jobs. Simulating the model with estimated parameters, decreased occupational mobility accounts for 10 percent of the obesity wage gap. While contemporaneous wage penalties for body weight are small, the cost over the life cycle is substantial. An exogenous increase in initial body mass by 20 percent leads to a 10 percent decrease in wages over the life course.

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