Journal of Population Research

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 65–80 | Cite as

The missing obese men? Labour force participation and obesity among prime-age men in the United States

  • Masanori KurokiEmail author


The declining labour force participation among men between the ages 25 and 54 in the United State has attracted the attention of policymakers and the public. I document this trend by obesity status during the period 1990–2016 using the Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey. I find that the likelihood of being out of the labour force has been increasing by approximately 0.22 percentage points every year on average for non-obese men, while that of obese men has been increasing by approximately 0.28 percentage points. This indicates that the difference in the propensity to be out of the labour force has widened by 1.6 percentage points between the obese and the non-obese during 1990–2016. It seems that the labour force participation gap between obese men and non-obese men started to increase during the housing bubble period, 2001–2007. The difference in the trends seems to be driven by non-Hispanic whites, men without a college degree, and men aged 25–44.


Obesity Labour force participation BMI Overweight Employment 

JEL Classification

I20 J20 J82 



I thank three anonymous referees for their useful comments and suggestions.


  1. Aguiar, M., Bils, M., Charles, K. & Hurst, E. (2016). Leisure luxuries and the labor supply of young men. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  2. Ai, C., & Norton, E. C. (2003). Interaction terms in logit and probit models. Economics Letter, 80(1), 123–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Autor, D. H., Dorn, D., & Hanson, G. H. (2016). The China shock: Learning from labor market adjustment to large changes in trade. NBER Working Paper, Volume No. 21906.Google Scholar
  4. Autor, D. H., & Duggan, M. G. (2003). The rise in the disability rolls and the decline in unemployment. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118(1), 157–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Autor, D. H., Duggan, M., Greenberg, K., & Lyle, D. S. (2016b). The impact of disability benefits on labor supply: Evidence from the VA’s disability compensation program. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 8(3), 31–68.Google Scholar
  6. Averett, S. (2014). Obesity and labor market outcomes. IZA World of Labor, Volume 32.Google Scholar
  7. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017). Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population by age, sex, and race. [Online] Available at: Accessed April 28, 2017.
  8. Case, A., & Deaton, A. (2015). Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America, 112(49), 15078–15083.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Colman, G., & Dave, D. (2013). Exercise, physical activity, and exertion over the business cycle. Social Science and Medicine, 93, 11–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eberstadt, N. (2016). The idle army: America’s unworking men. Wall Street Journal. [Online] Available at Accessed 9 Sept 2019
  11. Kramer, K. Z., Kelly, E. L., & McCulloch, J. B. (2013). Stay-at-home fathers: Definition and characteristics based on 34 years of CPS data. Journal of Family Issues, 36(12), 1651–1673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Krueger, A. B. (2016). Where have all the workers gone?. Boston: The Boston Federal Reserve.Google Scholar
  13. Ogden, C., Carroll, M., Fryar, C., & Flegal, K. (2015). Prevalence of obesity among adults and youth: United States, 2011–2014. Hyattsville, MD: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Google Scholar
  14. Puzzanghera, J. (2016). The U.S. labor force’s guy problem: Lots of men don’t have a job and aren’t looking for one. LA Times. [Online] Available at: Accessed 9 Sept 2019
  15. Rendall, M., Weden, M., Favreault, M., & Waldron, H. (2011). The protective effect of marriage for survival: A review and update. Demography, 48(2), 481–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ruhm, C. J. (2005). Healthy living in hard times. Journal of Health Economics, 24(2), 341–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Schmitt, J., & Warner, K. (2011). Ex-offenders and the labor market. Journal of Labor and Society, 14(1), 87–109.Google Scholar
  18. Sturm, R., & Hattori, A. (2013). Morbid obesity rates continue to rise rapidly in the United States. International Journal of Obesity, 37, 889–891.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. The New York Times. (2016). Millions of men are missing from the job market. [Online]. Available at: Accessed 9 Sept 2019
  20. The White House Council of Economic Advisers. (2016). The long-term decline in US prime-age male labour force participation. [Online] Available at: Accessed April 2, 2017.
  21. Thompson, D. (2016). The Missing Men. The Atlantic. [Online]. Available at: Accessed 9 Sept 2019
  22. Will, G. F. (2016). America’s ‘quiet catastrophe’: Millions of idle men. Washington Post. [Online] Available at: Accessed 9 Sept 2019

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of BusinessArkansas Tech UniversityRussellvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations