Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility

23 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2008 Last revised: 5 Sep 2021

See all articles by David G. Blanchflower

David G. Blanchflower

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); University of Stirling - Department of Economics

Andrew J. Oswald

University of Warwick - Department of Economics; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Bert Van Landeghem

KU Leuven - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance (LICOS); University of Sheffield - Department of Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 2008

Abstract

If human beings care about their relative weight, a form of imitative obesity can emerge (in which people subconsciously keep up with the weight of the Joneses). Using Eurobarometer data on 29 countries, this paper provides cross-sectional evidence that overweight perceptions and dieting are influenced by a person's relative BMI, and longitudinal evidence from the German Socioeconomic Panel that well-being is influenced by relative BMI. Highly educated people see themselves as fatter -- at any given actual weight -- than those with low education. These results should be treated cautiously, and fixed-effects estimates are not always well-determined, but there are grounds to take seriously the possibility of socially contagious obesity.

Suggested Citation

Blanchflower, David G. and Oswald, Andrew J. and Van Landeghem, Bert, Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility (September 2008). NBER Working Paper No. w14337, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1267568

David G. Blanchflower (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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University of Stirling - Department of Economics ( email )

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Andrew J. Oswald

University of Warwick - Department of Economics ( email )

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United Kingdom
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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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Bert Van Landeghem

KU Leuven - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance (LICOS) ( email )

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Belgium

University of Sheffield - Department of Economics ( email )

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UNITED KINGDOM

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