Note: This project has been a long time in the making. I thank Susan Godlonton for brilliant research assistance (many years ago). Diana Nyabongo provided excellent research assistance more recently. The paper has been improved by comments received from Stephan Klasen, two anonymous referees, and participants at the IARIW conference in Cape Town; as well as from Anne Case and Taryn Dinkelman. All remaining errors are my responsibility. Support for this research was provided by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant R01HD045581). Earlier versions of this paper were presented to the Centre for Social Science Research's workshop on Family Support and at seminars in Princeton and Michigan.
The Weight of Success: The Body Mass Index and Economic Well-Being in Southern Africa
Article first published online: 27 MAR 2013
© 2013 International Association for Research in Income and Wealth
Review of Income and Wealth
Special Issue: Measuring Income, Wealth, Inequality, and Poverty in Sub Saharan Africa: Challenges, Issues, and Findings
Volume 59, Issue Supplement S1, pages S62–S83, October 2013
How to Cite
Wittenberg, M. (2013), The Weight of Success: The Body Mass Index and Economic Well-Being in Southern Africa. Review of Income and Wealth, 59: S62–S83. doi: 10.1111/roiw.12029
- Issue published online: 4 SEP 2013
- Article first published online: 27 MAR 2013
- asset index;
- body mass index;
- 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.