“Do I look fat?” Self-perceived body weight and labor market outcomes

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HIGHLIGHTSWeight misperception is common among young adults (aged 16–31) in the U.S.The fraction of people viewing their body weight as “about right” falls with age.Weight misperception is not associated with labor market outcomes, gender is.Research reporting that greater body weight is associated with lower wages and employment, particularly among women, focuses on how employers perceive workers. In contrast, we examine whether workers’ own perceptions of body weight influence labor market outcomes. Numerous studies find that misperception of body weight influences health behaviors and health, both mental and physical. For example, anorexia nervosa involves the over-perception of weight and raises the risk of cardiovascular disease. Do the health consequences of inaccurate self-perceived weight carry through to the labor market? We use the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) to investigate patterns in weight misperception and three labor market outcomes. We find little evidence that either over-perception or under-perception of weight is associated with wages, weeks worked, or the number of jobs held for women and men.

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