Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility

17 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2009

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

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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.

Keywords: mental health, dieting, peer effects, happiness, imitation, comparisons, body mass index BMI, well-being, obesity

JEL Classification: D1, I12, I31

Suggested Citation

Blanchflower, David G. and Oswald, Andrew J. and Van Landeghem, Bert, Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility. IZA Discussion Paper No. 4010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1351174

David G. Blanchflower (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics ( email )

Hanover, NH 03755
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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
523510 (Phone)

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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Germany

Bert Van Landeghem

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

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Leuven, 3000
Belgium

University of Sheffield - Department of Economics ( email )

9 Mappin Street
Sheffield, S1 4DT
UNITED KINGDOM

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