An increase in a woman’s body mass results in a decrease in her family income and a decline in her occupational prestige, according to research conducted by New York University sociologist Dalton Conley and Rebecca Glauber, an NYU graduate student. The study was sponsored by the Cambridge, MA-based National Bureau of Economic Research.
The study’s authors also found that a women’s body mass is associated with a reduction in a woman’s likelihood of marriage, her spouse’s occupational prestige, and her spouse’s earnings. In addition, the researchers found that the association between body mass and occupational outcomes was more pronounced among younger women, suggesting that it is body mass that affects occupational prestige rather than the reverse. By contrast, and consistent with past research, men experience no negative effects of body mass on their economic situation. The researchers found no association between height and economic outcomes. The paper is available at papers.nber.org/papers/w11343.pdf.
Earlier research has been conducted on body mass index (BMI) and economic outcomes. However, this is the first study to employ the Panel Study of Economic Dynamics (PSID) to address this topic. PSID, which has surveyed a nationally representative sample of 5,000 families since 1968, allows researchers to track changes in Americans over several decades-notably the interaction between age and gender-rather than at a single moment in time or over a short period.
Conley and Glauber selected adults in the survey, aged 25 or older, who were the head or wife of their household in any or all of the following years: 1986, 1999, and 2001. In addition, these adults’ mothers had to have been part of the PSID sample at some point since the survey’s inception. In gauging occupational prestige, the researchers used the socioeconomic index scores (SEI) developed by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1970. The analysis controlled for age and education.
Through sibling comparisons, Conley and Glauber found that a 1 percent increase in a woman’s body mass results in a .6 percentage point decrease in her family income and a .4 percentage point decrease in her occupational prestige as measured 13 to 15 years later. There were no such associations found for the men in the sample.
Conley, author of The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why, recently received the National Science Foundation’s 2005 Waterman Award, which recognizes an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by the National Science Foundation. Conley, director of NYU’s Center for Advanced Social Science Research, is the first sociologist to win the award since its inception in 1975. Conley has also written The Starting Gate: Birth Weight and Life Chances (University of California, 2003), with Kate Strully and Neil Bennett, Honky (University of California, 2000), and Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America (University of California, 1999).