• D31;
  • I19;
  • I32
  • asset index;
  • body mass index;
  • obesity;
  • South Africa

We show that body mass increases with economic resources among most Southern Africans, although not all. Among Black South Africans the relationship is non-decreasing over virtually the entire range of incomes/wealth. Furthermore in this group other measures of “success” (e.g., employment and education) are also associated with increases in body mass. This is true in both 1998 (the Demographic and Health Survey) and 2008 (National Income Dynamics Survey). A similar relationship holds among residents of Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, and Namibia. This suggests that body mass can be used as a crude measure of well-being. This allows us to examine the vexed question in South African labor economics whether there is involuntary unemployment. The fact that the unemployed are lighter than the employed, even when we control for household fixed effects, suggests that they are not choosing this state.