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An Economic Paper On “The Value Of A Slender Spouse” Is The Worst Thing You’ll Read All Day

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Mahmoud Abudeif, May 26, 2021.

  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

    Mar 5, 2019
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    Practicing medicine in:

    Pop quiz time!

    Read the following words: “The Value of a Slender Spouse: Couples Agree that Keeping the Wife Svelte is more Valuable than Keeping the Husband Fit.”

    Is that vile sequence of words:

    A. From The Onion, Reductress or a similar humor outlet; B. A women’s magazine headline from the year 1958; or C. The actual title of a working paper from the year 2021 hosted by the National Bureau of Economic Research.


    If you picked C, you are, unfortunately, correct — though I cannot for the life of me imagine how or why this is a real thing that exists. Regardless, it does in fact appear to be a real scholarly paper that you can currently download from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Reader, I did not read or download the full PDF, in large part because I genuinely believe doing so could cause legitimate harm to my mental and physical wellbeing. Fortunately, I didn’t need to read any further than the headline and the abstract to come to that conclusion, nor need anyone to ascertain that this paper is not only inappropriate and unnecessary, but also fundamentally flawed from a research perspective.

    It’s hard to know where to start with this one, but I suppose the beginning is as a good a place as any. In this case, the paper’s authors begin by reminding us that “obesity is one of the greatest public-health challenges of the 21st century.” Which, fair, obesity is a condition linked to many health problems. That said, it is also a condition that frequently prevents patients from receiving adequate care for other legitimate, often entirely unrelated, health problems thanks to healthcare providers being educated in a fatphobic system that leads many of them to overlook or ignore other serious health concerns in fat patients. Healthcare providers can become fixated on their patients’ weight, sometimes with dire consequences.

    Moving right along, the paper’s authors then go on to kindly remind us that, “Body weight is also known to affect individuals’ self-esteem and interpersonal relationships, including romantic ones,” at which point they’ve made it clear that they’re done even trying to veil their fatphobic agenda in pseudoscience and are ready to simply leap into the fat-shaming.

    But wait, there’s more! Read a little further — if you can stomach it — and it’s time to let the sexism begin! According to the paper, both men and the women they’re married to think it’s much more important for a woman in a marriage to stay thin than for her husband to be fit. Allow the authors to explain: “Women on average value changes in their own BMI about three times higher than changes in their spouse’s BMI. Men, on the other hand, value a reduction in their spouse’s BMI almost twice as much compared to a reduction in their own BMI.”

    (Yes, by the way, this study does base its conclusions on the Body Mass Index — a scale widely regarded as an inaccurate measure of health. Thanks for noticing!)

    Now, do I, a woman who was raised in the same extremely sexist, fatphobic society that birthed this paper, doubt for a moment that women care more about their own bodies than the bodies of their male partners? Of course not! But does this mean that female thinness is actually more “valuable” than male fitness? I don’t know! Clearly I’m not the economic scholar here, but it seems to me that these results are probably less a reflection of the inherent value of female thinness than they are of the inordinate amount of pressure on women to maintain a certain body type.

    According to the paper, however, these findings can only mean one thing: “that keeping the wife svelte is even more valuable than keeping the husband fit.”

    Ah, yes, of course. Thin wife, happy life, as the old saying goes. For the record, none of this is to diminish the fatphobia men can and do experience, but rather to demonstrate the sexist ways that kind of prejudice can manifest in heteropatriarchal contexts — which, unfortunately, is most contexts.

    Anyway, this has all been very disheartening, and it remains unclear exactly what the purpose of this research is, if there is any at all. But at least now, thanks to the daring work of these brave researchers, we know that female thinness is inordinately valued in our society. Go figure.


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