Investigating the Negative Relationship between Wages and Obesity: New Evidence from the Work, Family, and Health Network


  • Matthew J. Trombley Abt Associates
  • Jeremy W. Bray University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • Jesse M. Hinde RTI International
  • Orfeu M. Buxton Pennsylvania State University Harvard University
  • Ryan C. Johnson Ohio University



obesity, wages, discrimination, productivity, motherhood


A substantial literature has established that obesity is negatively associated with wages, particularly among females.  However, prior research has found limited evidence for the factors hypothesized to underlie the obesity wage penalty.  We add to the literature using data from IT workers at a U.S. Fortune 500 firm that provides us with direct measures of employee income and BMI, and health measures that are unavailable in national-level datasets.  Our estimates indicate that the wage-obesity penalty among females only occurs among obese mothers, and is not attributable to differences in health or human capital that may be caused by having children. 

Published: Online November 2018.