October 2015

IZA DP No. 9397: Height, Weight and Well-Being for Rural, Urban and Migrant Workers in China

published in: Social Indicators Research, 2017, 132 (1), 117-136 [Online]

In general, the happiness literature has paid little attention to the relationship between physical appearance and well-being. In this paper, we examine the link between weight, height and well-being for three distinct samples in China given that attractiveness effects likely vary greatly across sociocultural contexts. As China has recently undergone rapid economic transformation in the urban areas, this empirical exercise is particularly interesting because it can highlight how changing social norms have affected the relationship between physical appearance and subjective well-being. For the rural and migrant samples, we find that for both men and women, big and tall individuals have higher levels of well-being. This is consistent with the notion that the strong are better off when more labor intensive work is the norm. For the urban sample and for urban males in particular, no well-being penalty is found for being obese, unlike previous results based on Western samples. It is very likely that the unique Chinese cultural practice of network building banquets and feasting is behind this finding.