What Happens When the Definition of Disability Changes? The Case of Obesity

44 Pages Posted: 21 Jan 2014

Date Written: January 19, 2014


This paper examines how changes in the definition of who is disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) impacts the labor market outcomes of newly covered individuals. Using obese individuals as an example, I exploit variations in coverage of obesity (both by federal circuit and over time) under the ADA to identify the effects of legal changes on employment outcomes of the obese. Previous analyses have exclusively focused on the original version of the ADA, passed in 1990; this analysis is the first to consider the impact of revisions made by Congress in the 2008 amendments to the act. After examining the period between 1988 and 2012, I find that employment outcomes of the obese have improved only when the ADA is enforced on behalf of obese individuals, and all improvement is confined to areas where the enforcement is concentrated. These results suggest that the presence of a disability law is not enough; enforcement of the law is essential to improve employment outcomes of the disabled.

Keywords: ADA, Disability law, Obesity, Employment discrimination, Enforcement

JEL Classification: J14, J21, J78, K31

Suggested Citation

Shinall, Jennifer Bennett, What Happens When the Definition of Disability Changes? The Case of Obesity (January 19, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2375899 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2375899

Jennifer Bennett Shinall (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

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