October 2014

IZA DP No. 8606: Big and Tall: Is there a Height Premium or Obesity Penalty in the Labor Market?

substantially revised version published as 'Big and Tall: Does a Height Premium Dwarf an Obesity Penalty in the Labor Market?' in: Economics and Human Biology (forthcoming)

Previous studies have shown that both height and weight are associated with wages. However, by focusing on interpreting the partial effects of either height or weight on wages while holding all else constant, some gaps in our understanding of the complex relationship between body size and wages remain. Utilizing a semi-parametric spline approach, we first establish that a flexible analysis of height and weight provides a useful and meaningful proxy for beauty. A similar flexible analysis of height, weight and wages reveals that some combinations of anthropometric measurements attract higher wage premiums than others and that the optimal combination varies over the life cycle. A main contribution of the paper is in suggesting a novel and practical way of examining the returns to looks in the labor market based on objective anthropometric measurements.