March 2012

IZA DP No. 6454: Immigration, Obesity and Labor Market Outcomes in the UK

published in: IZA Journal of Migration, 2012, 1:2

We estimate the dual effects of immigration and obesity on labor market outcomes in the UK. There is only one other paper that has estimated these dual effects on a sample of immigrants to the US. We use the British Household Panel Survey, which contains information on height and weight for 2004 and 2006, along with immigration status and labor market outcomes. This was a period of increased immigration to the UK resulting in large part from the accession of new EU member states, though our sample includes both recent arrivals and those who have been in the UK for decades. We first analyze an immigrant-only sample and then expand the sample to compare the experience of these immigrants to natives with similar weight and other observable characteristics. We find support for the "healthy immigrant hypothesis" that suggests that immigrants are less likely to be obese than natives, and also evidence of an assimilation effect in which immigrants' weight increases with their time in the UK. The results indicate a wage premium and higher proportions of white collar work for immigrant men, but a wage penalty and lower proportions of white collar work for overweight and obese immigrant men. We find weaker but still negative associations between weight and labor market outcomes for immigrant women. Data limitations preclude efforts to address endogeneity, so these findings should be viewed as associations that support the need for better data for additional analysis of the dual effects of immigration and obesity on labor market outcomes.