Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 109, Issue 5–6, pp 873–881 | Cite as

The effect of body weight on employment among Canadian women: evidence from Canadian data

  • Nazmi SariEmail author
  • Beliz Acan Osman
Quantitative Research



This paper examines the impact of obesity on labour market participation among Canadian women by using various Canadian population health surveys.


We estimate the impact of obesity on labour market participation using probit and bivariate probit regression models. To correct for a potential endogenous relationship between obesity and labour market participation, we also use instrumental variables in the bivariate probit regression context.


The results suggest that the probability of employment has negative association with the body weight of women. This effect is statistically significant and has substantial impact on employment. The results show that obesity decreases employment probability by about 25 percentage points for women.


In addition to well-known negative health consequences, obesity also has additional negative effect on employment. This negative impact on employment is comparable to the impacts of mental health or illicit drug use on employment. Public health policies aimed at reducing obesity would generate additional benefits to society. Our results also provide additional evidence for lawmakers to amend the labour laws in Canada in order to acknowledge and prohibit hiring practices that discriminate against individuals with high body weight.


Obesity Body weight Employment Probit/biprobit regression Health survey 



Examiner les incidences de l’obésité sur la participation au marché du travail des femmes canadiennes à l’aide de diverses enquêtes canadiennes sur la santé des populations.


Nous estimons les incidences de l’obésité sur la participation au marché du travail à l’aide des modèles de régression probit et probit bivarié. Pour corriger une possible relation endogène entre l’obésité et la participation au marché du travail, nous utilisons aussi des variables instrumentales dans le contexte de la régression probit bivariée.


Les résultats indiquent que la probabilité d’emploi est négativement associée au poids des femmes. Cet effet est significatif et a des incidences considérables sur l’emploi. Selon les résultats obtenus, l’obésité réduit la probabilité d’emploi d’environ 25 points de pourcentage chez les femmes.


Outre ses conséquences négatives bien connues sur la santé, l’obésité a un effet néfaste sur l’emploi. Cet effet sur l’emploi est comparable à celui des problèmes de santé mentale ou de la consommation de drogue. Les politiques de santé publique qui visent à réduire l’obésité présenteraient donc des avantages supplémentaires pour la société. Nos résultats offrent aussi aux législateurs de nouvelles données à l’appui de la modification de la législation ouvrière au Canada pour reconnaître et interdire les pratiques discriminatoires envers les personnes de poids élevé.


Obésité Poids du corps Emploi Régression probit/biprobit Enquêtes de santé 



Over the course of my (NS) academic career, many individuals have inspired me by their tremendous energy, inspiration, dedication, and belief for social justice and equity. Among many, I would like to especially thank and acknowledge Mr. and Mrs. Ismet and Nursen Metin for their lifelong dedication and hard work as well as their strong belief in public service to improve the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable populations.


  1. Averett, S., & Korenman, S. (1996). The economic reality of the beauty myth. Journal of Human Resources, 31(2), 304–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baum, C. L., & Ford, F. W. (2004). The wage effects of obesity: a longitudinal study. Journal of Health Economics, 24(2), 341–363.Google Scholar
  3. Bernheim, B. D. (1994). A theory of conformity. Journal of Political Economy, 102(5), 841–877.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bound, J., Jaeger, A. D., & Baker, M. R. (1995). Problems with instrumental variables estimation when the correlation between the instruments and the endogenous explanatory variables is weak. American Statistical Association, 90(450), 443–450.Google Scholar
  5. Brock, W. A., & Durlauf, S. N. (2001). Discrete choice with social interactions. Review of Economics Studies, 68(2), 235–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown, H. S., Pagan, J. A., & Bastida, E. (2005). The impact of diabetes on employment: genetic IVs in a bivariate probit. Health Economics, 14, 537–544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brunello, G., & D’Hombres, B. (2007). Does body weight affect wages? Evidence from Europe. Economics Human Biology, 5, 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cawley, J. (2000a). An instrumental variables approach to measuring the effect of body weight on employment disability. Health Services Research, 35(5), 1159.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. Cawley J. (2000b). Body weight and women’s labor market outcomes. NBER working paper series. Working paper 7841.Google Scholar
  10. Cawley, J. (2004). The impact of obesity on wages. Journal of Human Resources, 39(2), 451–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cawley, J., Han, E., & Norton, E. C. (2009). Obesity and labor market outcomes among legal immigrants to the United States from developing countries. Economics and Human Biology, 7(2), 153–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Christakis, N. A., & Fawler, J. H. (2007). The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. New England Journal of Medicine, 357(4), 370–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. DeSimone, J. (2002). Illegal drug use and employment. Journal of Labor Economics, 20(4), 952–977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Drewnowski, A., & Barratt-Fornell, A. (2004). Do healthier diets cost more? Nutrition Today, 34, 161–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Everett, M. (1990). Fat chance: let an overweight person call on your best customers? Sales & Marketing Man, 42(4), 66–70.Google Scholar
  16. Frijters P, Johnston DW, Shields MA. ( 2010). Mental health and labour market participation: evidence from IV panel data models. IZA discussion paper no 4883Google Scholar
  17. Garcia, J., & Quintana-Domeque, C. (2006). Obesity, employment and wages in Europe. Advances in Health Economics & Health Services Research, 17, 187–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Government of Canada.(2018) Canadian Human Rights Act. Current to 2018-02-15 and last amended on 2017-06-19. Available at: (Accessed February 2, 2018).
  19. Greene, W. H. (2000). Econometric analysis. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall Inc.Google Scholar
  20. Guilkey, D. K., & Lance, P. (2014). Program impact estimation with binary outcome variables: Monte Carlo results for alternative estimators and empirical examples. In R. C. Sickles & W. C. Horrace (Eds.), Festschrift in honor of Peter Schmidt: econometric methods and applications (pp. 5–46). NewYork: Springer Science and Business Media.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hamermesh, D. S., & Biddle, J. E. (1994). Beauty and the labor market. American Economic Review, 84(5), 1174–1194.Google Scholar
  22. Klarenbach, S., Padwal, R., Chuck, A., & Jacobs, P. (2006). Population-based analysis of obesity and workforce participation. Obesity, 14, 920–927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Manski, C. F. (2000). Economic analysis of social interactions. Journal of Economic Perspective, 14(3), 115–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Morris, S. (2006). Body mass index and occupational attainment. Journal of Health Economics, 25(2), 347–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Morris, S. (2007). The impact of obesity on employment. Labour Economics, 14, 413–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Norton, E. C., & Han, E. (2008). Genetic information, obesity, and labor market outcomes. Health Economics, 17(9), 1089–1104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Puhl, R. M., Latner, J. D., O'brien, K. S., Luedicke, J., Danielsdottir, S., & Salas, X. R. (2015). Potential policies and laws to prohibit weight discrimination: public views from 4 countries. The Milbank Quarterly, 93(4), 691–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Roehling, M. V. (1999). Weight-based discrimination in employment: psychological and legal aspects. Personnel Psychology, 52, 969–1017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sari, N. (2014). Sports, exercise and length of stay in hospitals: is there a differential effect for chronically ill people? Contemporary Economic Policy, 32(2), 247–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Statistics Canada.(2017) National population health survey. Available at: (Accessed September 12, 2017).
  31. Tunceli, K., Li, K., & Keoki Williams, L. (2006). Long-term effects of obesity on employment and work limitations among U.S. adults, 1986 to 1999. Obesity, 14(9), 1637–1646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Wooldridge, J. M. (2002). Econometric analysis of cross-section and panel data. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  33. World Health Organization. 2017 Obesity: preventing and managing the global epidemic. World Health Organization technical report series 894, 2000 Available at: (Accessed November 10, 2017).

Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Saskatchewan Health Quality CouncilSaskatoonCanada

Personalised recommendations