As the first wave of baby boomers enter into retirement, there remains uncertainty among economists and policymakers as to whether these households are adequately preparing for retirement. At the same time, given the recent, rapid growth in the share of adults that are overweight and obese, the impact of a high body mass index (BMI) on the employment, wages, and retirement decisions of these early boomers may have important implications for their transition into retirement. Although the literatures on retirement savings adequacy and the causal effects of BMI do not overlap, food intake plays a fundamental role in both of these areas. While decreases in expenditures at retirement are seen as evidence of a lack of retirement preparation, an influential recent paper using cross-sectional data from the early 1990s finds that food intake remains unchanged at retirement. The importance of food intake as a determinant of BMI, however, has not been directly exploited in the literature studying the causal effect of obesity on employment and wages. This project aims to expand on the role of food intake in both of these literatures. Specifically we will (1) use a number of cross-sectional food intake studies spanning 1971 to 2010 in order to examine whether the lack of an impact of retirement on food intake is also found throughout these four decades;(2) examine the impact of retirement on food intake using a number of longitudinal studies containing food intake data in order to account for unobserved heterogeneity which can be problematic for interpreting estimates from cross- sectional data;and (3) exploit the large scale experimental manipulation of diets found in a subset of the longitudinal studies in order to examine the impact of BMI on employment, wages, and, retirement decisions. This study makes a substantial contribution to two important policy areas. First, by both using numerous cross-sectional datasets containing food intake that span four decades and, especially, adding longitudinal data on food intake, this project will provide vastly improved estimates of the impact of retirement on food intake and greatly further our understanding of retirement savings adequacy. Second, by using true experimental variation to examine the impact of BMI on employment, wages, and the timing of retirement, this study will significantly improve our understanding of the role of BMI on labor market outcomes.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research examines the adequacy of retirement savings and the impact of BMI and obesity on labor market outcomes by examining a common link between these two areas: food intake. The lack of financial resources to maintain well-being in retirement raises important public health concerns as financial strain among retired households may leave them unable to cope with unanticipated changes in their health. While relatively lower wages among overweight and obese individuals may be the result of discrimination on the part of employers, it may also reflect the impact that obesity and associated health issues have on worker productivity which has not only is detrimental to the individuals in question but also to the economy at large.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZAG1)
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Phillips, John
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
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Ann Arbor
United States
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