Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Cross-Weight Labour Supply Elasticity That Dare Not Speak Its Name

A Matter of Weight? Hours of Work of Married Men and Women and Their Relative Physical Attractiveness

We explore the role of relative physical attractiveness within the household on the labor supply decisions of husbands and wives. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we find that husbands who are heavier relative to their wives work more hours, while wives who are thinner relative to their husbands work fewer hours. We also find a 9% -elasticity of annual hours of work with respect to own BMI for married men, and a -7%- elasticity with respect to wife's BMI. For married women, we find an 8% -elasticity of annual hours of work with respect to own BMI, and a -6%- elasticity with respect to husband's BMI. While own BMI is positively related to own hours of work for married individuals, no statistically significant relatioship emerges for eigher unmarried men or unmarried women.
They estimated the elasticity of male labour supply with respect to the wife's weight.

They estimated the elasticity of male labour supply with respect to the wife's weight. And vice versa.

Before you critique for confounds that could have been present, check the paper. Long story short: the more attractive spouse, where BMI proxies for attractiveness, gets to work fewer hours; the less attractive spouse has to work more hours. The effect is basically symmetric. If the husband is substantially less attractive than the wife, he works more hours; if the husband is substantially more attractive, she has to work more hours.

As I've suggested before, people are Lancasterian goods in the marriage market and outcomes within marriages are the result of Coasean bargains. Confirmatory evidence? Oh yes.

HT: @CJFDillow


  1. Nice.

    Are you suggesting that, if we want to increase GDP we need people to weigh more ... sounds like grounds for a "fat subsidy" ;)

  2. Not at all. The study is all about relative weights within couples, not absolute effects.

  3. :(

    So we need to subsidise food for men and tax it for women?

  4. Hmmm, you are going to say that in this case men will just buy all the food for the household ...

    Ok, well how about if we ban the sale of food (and the private production). Then we sell the socialised food to people, but they have to consume it on the spot - that way we can price discriminate on the basis of gender.

    In that case we can ensure that men eat more than women, get that weight differential up, and increase GDP.

    That is what the paper is suggesting right?

  5. @Matt: Your proposal would only result in increased hours worked by men and decreased hours worked by women. In other words, you're Peter Dunne.

  6. :(

    Maybe I was making a sexist implicit assumption regarding average productivity. Given how far I've already gone down the "poor policy economics" line in this comments section, I might as well pull that one out ;)

    And how did you know that I'm Peter Dunne in disguise? My pseudonym has been blown.

  7. Maybe that’s why my missus is always on at me to take out the trash and do the dishes. I should fatten her up.

  8. @Matt: worry more about average productivity at the margin.

    @James: Or, lose weight 'till you've a lower BMI relative to the male average than she does relative to the female average.

  9. Presumably they controlled for exercise and diet? ie if you are working less it is easier to exercise and eat better...