Rising obesity is not only a pressing global public health problem. There is also substantial evidence that obese people, particularly women, are less likely to be employed and, when employed, are likely to earn lower wages. There is some evidence that the lower earnings are a result of discriminatory hiring and sorting into jobs with less customer contact. Understanding whether obesity is associated with adverse labor market outcomes and ascertaining the source of these outcomes are essential for designing effective public policy.
A non-trivial portion of traffic fatalities involve alcohol or illicit drugs. But does the use of alcohol and illegal substances—which is linked to depression, suicide, and criminal activity—also reduce academic performance? Recent studies suggest that drinking alcohol has a negative, if modest, effect on grades, and although students who use illegal substances are more likely to drop out of school than those who do not, this may reflect the influence of other, difficult-to- measure factors at the individual level, such as personality.
Public debate on immigration focuses on its effects on wages and employment, yet the discussion typically fails to consider the effects of immigration on working conditions that affect workers’ health. There is growing evidence that immigrants are more likely than natives to work in risky jobs, as they are more inclined to take on physically intensive tasks. Recent studies show that as immigration rises, native workers are pushed into less demanding jobs. Such market adjustments have positive impacts on the health of the native workers.
by Carol Graham
Flexible work time and retirement options are a potential solution for the challenges of unemployment, aging populations, and unsustainable pensions systems around the world. Voluntary part-time workers in Europe and the US are happier, experience less stress and anger, and are more satisfied with their jobs than other employees. Late-life workers, meanwhile, have higher levels of well-being than retirees. The feasibility of a policy that is based on more flexible work arrangements will vary across economies and sectors, but the ongoing debate about these multi-tiered challenges should at least consider such arrangements.
In common anti-immigrant rhetoric, concerns are raised that immigrants bring diseases with them to the host country that threaten the health of the resident population. In reality, extensive empirical research over several decades and across multiple regions and host countries has documented that when immigrants arrive in the host country they are healthier than native residents, a phenomenon termed the “healthy immigrant effect.” This initial advantage deteriorates with time spent in the host country, however, and immigrants’ health status converges toward (or below) that of native residents.
A productive workforce is a key objective of public economic policy. Recent empirical work suggests that increasing individual participation in sports and exercise can be a major force for achieving this goal. The productivity gains and related increase in earnings come on top of the already well-documented public health effects that have so far provided the rationale for the major national and international campaigns to increase individual physical activity. The deciding issue for government policy is whether there are externalities, information asymmetries, or other reasons that lead individuals to decide on activity levels that are too low from a broader social perspective.
In response to declining budgets, many school districts in the US have reduced funding for sports. In Europe, parents may respond to difficult economic times by spending less on sports clubs for their children. Such cuts are unwise if participating in sports is an investment good as well as a consumption good and adds to students’ human capital. The value of sports is hard to measure because people who already possess the skills needed to succeed in school and beyond might be more likely to participate in sports. Most studies that account for this endogeneity find that participation in youth sports improves academic and labor market performance.
by Xi Chen
People who are unable to maintain the same standard of living as others around them experience a sense of relative deprivation that has been shown to reduce feelings of well-being. Relative deprivation reflects conditions of worsening relative poverty despite striking reductions in absolute poverty. The effects of relative deprivation explain why average happiness has been stagnant over time despite sharp rises in income. Consumption taxes on status-seeking spending, along with official and traditional sanctions on excess consumption and redistributive policies may lessen the negative impact of relative deprivation on well-being.
Eastern European countries, particularly former Soviet Union economies, traditionally have the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the world. Consequently, they also have some of the highest male mortality rates in the world. Regulation can be effective in significantly decreasing excessive drinking and its related negative effects, such as low labor productivity and high rates of mortality. Understanding the consequences of specific regulatory measures and what tools should be used to combat excessive alcohol consumption is essential for designing effective policies.
by Laura Argys
Upon arrival in a host country, immigrants often have lower obesity rates (as measured for instance by BMI—body mass index) than their native counterparts do, but these rates converge over time. In light of the worldwide obesity epidemic and the flow of immigrants into host countries with higher obesity rates, it is important to understand the consequences of such assimilation. Policymakers could benefit from a discussion of the impact of immigrant obesity on labor market outcomes and the use of public services. In particular, policies could find ways to improve immigrants’ access to health care for both the prevention and treatment of obesity.
Research has shown that job insecurity affects both mental and physical health, though the effects are lower when employees are easily re-employable. The detrimental effects of job insecurity can also be partly mitigated by employers allowing greater employee participation in workplace decision-making in order to ensure fair procedures. But as job insecurity is felt by many more people than just the unemployed, the negative health effects during recessions are multiplied and extend through the majority of the population. This reinforces the need for more effective, stabilising macroeconomic policies.
Ample empirical evidence links adverse conditions during early childhood (the period from conception to age five) to worse health outcomes and lower academic achievement in adulthood. Can early-life medical care and public health interventions ameliorate these effects? Recent research suggests that both types of interventions may benefit not only child health but also long-term educational outcomes. In addition, early-life medical interventions may improve the educational outcomes of siblings. These findings can be used to design policies that improve long-term outcomes and reduce economic inequality.
Childhood obesity has been rising steadily in most parts of the world. Popular speculation attributes some of that increase to rising maternal employment. Employed mothers spend less time at home and thus less time with their children, whose diets and physical activity may suffer. Also, children of working mothers may spend more time in the care of others, whose childcare quality may vary substantially. While a majority of US studies support this hypothesis and have clear policy implications, recent studies in other countries are less conclusive, largely because institutional arrangements differ but also because methodologies do.
More than 100 million women and girls in the world have had their genitals cut for cultural, religious, or other non-medical reasons. Even though international organizations condemn female genital mutilation (FGM), or cutting, as a violation of human rights, and most nations have banned it, it remains prevalent in many African countries, and is slow to decline. This persistence raises questions about the effectiveness of international and national laws prohibiting the practice as well as the potential role of returning migrants in changing embedded cultural norms. Does migration change migrants’ opinions and attitudes to this custom? If so, do they transfer the new norms to their origin countries?
Recessions are complex events that affect personal health and behavior via various potentially opposing mechanisms. While recessions are known to have negative effects on mental health and lead to an increase in suicides, it has been proven that they reduce mortality rates. A general health policy agenda in relation to recessions remains ambiguous due to the lack of consistency between different individual- and country-level approaches. However, aggregate regional patterns provide valuable information, and local social planners could use them to design region-specific policy responses to mitigate the negative health effects cause by recessions.
As migration rates increase across the world, the choice of whether to retire in the host or home country is becoming a key decision for up to 15% of the world’s population, and this proportion is growing rapidly. Large waves of immigrants who re-settled in the second half of the 20th century are now beginning to retire. Although immigrants’ location choice at retirement is an area that has barely been studied, this decision has crucial implications for health care and social protection expenditures, both in host and origin countries.
Large and sudden economic and political changes, even if potentially positive, often entail enormous social and health costs. Such transitory costs are generally underestimated or neglected by incumbent governments. The mortality crisis experienced by the former communist countries of Europe—which caused ten million excess deaths from 1990 to 2000—is a good example of how the transition from a low to a high socio-economic level can generate huge social costs if it is not actively, effectively, and equitably managed from a public policy perspective.
by David Madden
A statistical association between more education and better health outcomes has long been observed, but in the absence of experimental data researchers have struggled to find a causal effect. Schooling reforms such as raising school leaving age, which have been enacted in many countries, can be viewed as a form of natural experiment and provide a possible method of identifying such an effect. However, the balance of evidence so far is that these reforms have had little impact on long-term health. Thus, policymakers should be cautious before anticipating a health effect when introducing reforms of this nature.
Public schemes for sickness benefits and disability insurance are often criticized for the lack of incentive they provide for preventive and reintegration activities by employers. To stimulate the interest of employers in engaging with these schemes, several modes of privatization could be considered, including the provision of sickness benefits by employers, “experience rating” of disability insurance costs, employer self-insurance, or insurance by private insurance providers. These types of employer incentives seem to lower sickness rates, but they also come at the risk of increased under-reporting and less employment opportunities for workers with disabilities or bad health conditions. Policymakers should be aware of this trade-off.
In a typical country, one in five people suffers from a mental illness, the great majority from depression or crippling anxiety. Mental illness accounts for half of all illness up to age 45 in rich countries, making it the most prevalent disease among working-age people; it also accounts for close to half of disability benefits in many countries. Mentally ill people are less likely to be employed and, if employed, more likely to be out sick or working below par. If mentally ill people received treatment so that they had the same employment rate as the rest of the population, total employment would be 4% higher, adding many billions to national output.
by Olga Popova
Most religions in transition economies were marginalized by their former communist regimes. Today, some of these countries are experiencing a revival of religiosity, while others are prone to secularization. Religious norms affect individual decision making with respect to human capital investment, economic reforms, marital stability, employment, and other contexts. This implies that the interests of both religious and non-religious communities may differ and must be taken into account when designing and implementing economic policies, which is a challenge for policymakers.