The Mediation Effect of Self-Esteem on Weight and Earnings

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Atlantic Economic Journal

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Prior research has consistently documented a weight-related earnings penalty for females. However, there is debate concerning the existence of a similar wage penalty for men, with many studies having found no statistically significant effect. Prior research has also found a wage penalty associated with lower self-esteem. Drawing data from the 1979 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we refine the empirical relationship among self-esteem, wages, and weight. Implementing mediation models, our results suggest men face an obesity wage penalty, but the penalty is characterized through a persistent decrease in self-esteem when relatively young which leads to lower wages as adults. In contrast, the obesity wage penalty for females is not mediated through lower self-esteem and is likely the result of factors related to contemporaneous body weight.