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Abstract

The Importance of Objective Health Measures in Predicting Early Receipt of Social Security Benefits: The Case of Fatness
by Richard V. Burkhauser and John H. Cawley

Theoretical models argue that poor health will contribute to early exit from the
labor market and the decision to take early Social Security retirement benefits (Old-Age or OA benefits). However, most empirical estimates of the causal importance of health on the decision to take early OA benefits have been forced to rely on global measures such as self-rated work limitations or self-rated health. We contribute to the empirical literature by using a more objective measure of health, fatness, to predict early receipt of OA benefits. We do so by estimating the causal impact of fatness within an empirical model using the method of instrumental variables, and testing the robustness of our findings using the most common measure of fatness in the social science literature – body mass index – with what is a more theoretically appropriate measure of fatness – total body fat and percent body fat. Overall, our conclusion is that fatness and obesity are strong predictors of early receipt of OA benefits.
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