The European Journal of Health Economics

, Volume 15, Issue 6, pp 567–576 | Cite as

The effect of job loss on body weight during an economic collapse

  • Sif Jónsdóttir
  • Tinna Laufey ÁsgeirsdóttirEmail author
Original Paper


Studies on the relationship between unemployment and body weight show a positive relationship between Body Mass Index (BMI) and unemployment at the individual level, while aggregate unemployment is negatively related to a population’s average BMI. The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between job loss and changes in body weight following the Icelandic economic collapse of 2008. The analysis relies on a health and lifestyle survey “Heilsa og líðan”, carried out by The Public Health Institute of Iceland in the years 2007 and 2009. The sample is a stratified random sample of 9,807 Icelanders between the ages of 18 and 79, with a net response rate of 42.1 % for individuals responding in both waves. A linear regression model was used when estimating the relationship between job loss following the economic collapse and changes in body weight. Family income and mental health were explored as mediators. Point estimates indicated that both men and women gain less weight in the event of a job loss relative to those who retained their employment. The coefficients of job loss were only statistically significant for females, but not in the male population. The results from all three models were inconsistent with results from other studies where job loss has been found to increase body weight. However, body weight has been shown to be procyclical, and the fact that the data used were gathered during a severe economic downturn might separate these results from earlier findings.


Body weight Unemployment Recessions Business cycles 

JEL Classification

I10 I12 I15 E32 J23 



We thank the Icelandic Research Fund (i. Rannsóknarsjóður) for provided financial support (IRS grant number 130611-051). We gratefully thank the Icelandic Directorate of Health for data provision and Thor Aspelund, professor at the University of Iceland, for helpful assistance.


  1. 1.
    WHO: The challenge of obesity in the WHO European Region and strategies for response Summary. World Health Organization Europe, Copenhagen (2007)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Valdimarsdóttir, M., Jónsson, S.H., Þorgeirsdóttir, H., Gísladóttir, E., Guðlaugsson, J.Ó., Þórlindsson, Þ.: Líkamsþyngd og holdafar fullorðinna Íslendinga frá 1990 til 2007. Lýðheilsustöð, Reykjavík (2009)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Korpi, T.: Accumulating disadvantage: longitudinal analyses of unemployment and physical health in representative samples of the Swedish population. Eur. Sociol. Rev. 17(3), 255–273 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Turner, J.B.: Economic context and the health effects of unemployment. J. Heal. Soc. Behav. 36(3), 213–229 (1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Gallo, W.T., Bradley, E.H., Siegel, M., Kasl, S.V.: Health effects of involuntary job loss among older workers: findings from the health and retirement survey. J. Gerontol. Ser. B Psychol. Sci. Soc. Sci. 55(3), 131–140 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ruhm, C.J.: Are recessions good for your health? Q. J. Heal. Econ. 115(2), 617–650 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ruhm, C.J.: Healthy living in hard times. J. Heal. Econ. 24(2), 341–363 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Charles, K.K., DeCicca, P.: Local market fluctuations and health: is there a connection and for whom? J. Heal. Econ. 27(6), 1532–1550 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ásgeirsdóttir, T.L.: Do body weight and gender shape the work force? The case of Iceland. Econ. Hum. Biol. 9(2), 148–156 (2011)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Atella, V., Pace, N., Vuri, D.: Are employers discriminating with respect to weight? European evidence using quantile regression. Econ. Hum. Biol. 6, 305–329 (2008)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Averett, S., Korenman, S.: The economic reality of the Beauty Myth. J. Hum. Resour. 31(2), 304–330 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Brunello, G., D’Hombres, B.: Does body weight affect wages? Evidence from Europe. Econ. Hum. Biol. 5, 1–19 (2007)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Cawley, J.: Body Weight and women’s labor-market outcomes. National Bureau of Economic Research working paper no. 7841 (2000)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Cawley, J.: The impact of obesity on wages. J. Hum. Resour. 39, 451–474 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cawley, J., Han, E., Norton, E.: Obesity and labor market outcomes among legal immigrants to the United States from developing countries. Econ. Hum. Biol. 7, 153–164 (2009)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Greve, J.: Obesity and labor market outcomes in Denmark. Econ. Hum. Biol. 6, 350–362 (2008)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Johansson, E., Böckerman, P., Kiiskinen, U., Heliövaara, M.: Obesity and labour market success in Finland: the difference between having a high BMI and being fat. Econ. Hum. Biol. 7, 36–45 (2009)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Morris, S.: The impact of obesity on employment. Labour Econ. 14, 413–433 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Pagan, J.A., Davila, A.: Obesity, occupational attainment, and earnings. Soc. Sci. Q. 78, 756–770 (1997)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Register, C.A., Williams, D.R.: Wage effects of obesity among young workers. Soc. Sci. Q. 71, 130–141 (1990)Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Sarlio-Lahteenkorva, S., Lahelma, E.: The association of body mass index with social and economic disadvantage in women and men. Int. J. Epidemiol. 28, 445–449 (1999)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Villar, J.G., Quintana-Domeque, C.: Income and body mass index in Europe. Econ. Hum. Biol. 7, 73–83 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Neumayer, E.: Recessions lower (some) mortality rates: evidence from Germany. Soc. Sci. Med. 58, 1037–1047 (2004)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Gerdtham, U.-G., Ruhm, C.J.: Deaths rise in good economic times: evidence from the OECD. Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), discussion paper no. 654. Lund University, Lund, November (2002)Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Economou, A., Nikolaou, A., Theodossiou, I.: Are recessions harmful to health after all? Evidence from the European Union. J. Econ. Stud. 35(5), 368–384 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ruhm, C.J.: Good times make you sick. J. Heal. Econ. 22, 637–658 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Martikainen, P., Mäki, N., Jäntti, M.: The effects of unemployment on mortality following workplace downsizing and workplace closure: a register-based follow-up study of Finnish men and women during economic boom and recession. Am. J. Epidemiol. 165(9), 1070–1075 (2007)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Voss, M., Nylén, L., Floderus, B., Diderichsen, F., Terry, P.D.: Unemployment and early cause-specific mortality: a study based on the Swedish twin registry. Am. J. Pub. Heal. 94(12), 2155–2161 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Gerdtham, U.-G., Johannesson, M.: A note on the effect of unemployment on mortality. J. Heal. Econ. 22, 505–518 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Sullivan, D., Wachter, T.V.: Job displacement and mortality: an analysis using administrative data. Q. J. Econ. 124(3), 1265–1306 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Iversen, L., Andersen, O., Andersen, P.K., Christoffersen, K., Keiding, N.: Unemployment and mortality in Denmark, 1970–80. Br. Med. J. 295, 879–884 (1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Eliason, M., Storrie, D.: Does job loss shorten life? Working paper series 153 in economics. Göteborg University, Sweden (2007)Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ariizumi, H., Schirle, T.: Are recessions really good for your health? Evidence from Canada. Canadian Labour Market and Skills Researcher Network (working paper no. 73) (2011)Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Böckerman, P., Johansson, E., Helakorpi, S., Prättälä, R., Vartiainen, E., Uutela, A.: Does a slump really make you thinner? Finnish micro-level evidence 1978–2002. Heal. Econ. 16(1), 103–107 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Deb, P., Gallo, W.T., Ayyagari, P., Fletcher, J.M., Sindelar, J.L.: The effect of job loss on overweight and drinking. J. Heal. Econ. 30(2), 317–327 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Schunck, R., Rogge, B.G.: Unemployment and its association with health-relevant actions: investigating the role of time perspective with German census data. Int. J. Pub. Heal. 55(4), 271–278 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Virtanen, P., Vahtera, J., Broms, U., Sillanmäki, L., Kivimäki, M., Koskenvuo, M.: Employment trajectory as determinant of change in health-related lifestyle: the prospective HeSSup study. Eur. J. Pub. Heal. 18(5), 504–508 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Dave, D.M., Kelly, I.R.: How does the business cycle affect eating habits? Soc. Sci. Med. 74(2), 254–262 (2012)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Statice.: Salary, income and the labor-market. Statistics Iceland Website. Accessed 24 July 2012
  40. 40.
    Jónsson, S.H., Guðlaugsson, J.Ó., Gylfason, H.F., Guðmundsdóttir, D.G.: Heilsa og líðan Íslendinga 2007. Framkvæmdaskýrsla. Lýðheilsustöð, Reykjavík (2011)Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    McAdams, M.A., Van Dam, R.M., Hu, F.B.: Comparison of self-reported and measured BMI as correlates of disease markers in U.S. adults. Obesity 15(1), 188–196 (2007)PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Statice.: Prices and consumption. Statistics Iceland website. Accessed 1 Dec 2011
  43. 43.
    The Central Bank of Iceland.: Exchange rate. Central Bank of Iceland website. Accessed 12 Aug 2012
  44. 44.
    StataCorp: Stata statistical software: release 11. Stata Corp LP, College Station, TX (2009)Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Lundborg, P., Bolin, K., Höjgård, S., Lindgren, B.: Obesity and occupational attainment among the 50+ of Europe. In: Bolin, K., Cawley, J. (eds.) Adv. Heal. Econ. Heal. Serv. Res. 17, 219–251 (2007)Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Heij, C., Boer, P., Franses, P.H., Kloek, T., Dijk, H.K.: Econometric methods with applications in business and economics. University Press, Oxford (2004)Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Sobel, M. E.: Asymptotic intervals for indirect effects in structural equations models. In: Leinhart, S. (ed.) Sociol. Methodol. 290–312 (1982)Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    MacKinnon, D.P., Lockwood, C.M., Hoffman, J.M., West, S.G., Sheets, V.: A comparison of methods to test mediation and other intervening variable effects. Psychol. Methods 7, 83–104 (2002)PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sif Jónsdóttir
    • 1
  • Tinna Laufey Ásgeirsdóttir
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.University of IcleandReykjavikIceland

Personalised recommendations