In this study, authors Donna B. Gilleskie (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Euna Han (Yonsei University), and Edward C. Norton (University of Michigan), quantify the life-cycle effects of human and health capital on the wage distribution of females.

Past research has found that body mass of females is negatively correlated with wages and typically focuses on the current situation while ignoring the evolution up to that current point. The authors seek to distinguish between wage effects of body mass characterized by life-cycle human capital differences and those reflecting additional differences in current valuations of market work.

The authors extend current literature in several ways. Instead of using cross-sectional analyses, they examined the yearly observations of a group of women over twenty consecutive years allowing for more insight into the relationship between body mass and wage dynamics. In addition to this, they include other individual behaviors that may also influence body mass and wages. This allows them to dissect the correlation between body mass and wages reported in the literature into life-cycle effects captured through human capital variables and contemporaneous (direct) influences. With this data, they apply dynamic estimation techniques to better capture impacts of interest and to eliminate bias.


In this study we quantify the life-cycle effects of human and health capital on the wage distribution of females, with a focus on health measured by body mass. We use NLSY79 data on women followed annually up to twenty years during the time of their lives when average annual weight gain is greatest. We allow body mass to explain variation in wages contemporaneously conditional on observed measures of human capital and productivity histories (namely, education, employment experience, marital status, and family size) and dynamically over the life cycle through its impact on the endogenous histories of behaviors that determine wages. We find significant differences in the contemporaneous effect and the dynamic effect of body mass on wages, both across females of different races and over the distribution of wages.

Read the working paper, "Disentangling the Contemporaneous and Dynamic Effects of Human and Health Capital on Wages over the Life Cycle."