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Overweight retiree shops for food

Food intake, BMI, and employment, wages, and retirement

1/2/2014 feature story

Melvin Stephens merges two lines of inquiry to examine how retirement affects food intake and how food intake/BMI impacts employment and transitions to retirement.

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Melvin Stephens, Jr

Project Information:

Nutrition, Wages, and Retirement

Economists and policymakers remain uncertain about the financial preparedness of the baby boomers entering retirement. Concomitantly, recent increases in the percent of overweight and obese adults suggest that these factors, known to impact employment and wages, may have important implications for their transition into retirement. Although the literatures on retirement savings adequacy and obesity do not overlap, food intake plays a fundamental role in both of these areas. While decreases in expenditures at retirement are seen as evidence of a lack of retirement preparation, an influential recent paper using cross-sectional data from the early 1990s finds that food intake remains unchanged at retirement. The importance of food intake as a determinant of BMI, however, has not been directly exploited in the literature studying the causal effect of obesity on employment and wages. This project aims to expand on the role of food intake in both of these literatures. Specifically we will (1) use a number of cross-sectional food intake studies spanning 1977 to 2010 to examine whether the lack of an impact of retirement on food intake is also found throughout these four decades; (2) examine this same effect using a number of longitudinal studies containing food intake data to account for unobserved heterogeneity (which can be problematic for cross-sectional studies); and (3) exploit the large-scale experimental manipulation of diets found in a subset of the longitudinal studies to examine the impact of BMI on employment, wages, and retirement decisions. This study makes a substantial contribution to two important policy areas. First, by both expanding the number of years available cross-sectional data and, especially, adding longitudinal data on food intake, this project will provide vastly improved estimates of the impact of retirement on food intake and greatly further our understanding of retirement savings adequacy. Second, by using true experimental variation to examine the impact of BMI on employment, wages, and the timing of retirement, this study will significantly improve our understanding of the role of BMI on labor market outcomes.

Melvin Stephens

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