Food Deserts and the Causes of Nutritional Inequality

79 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2017

See all articles by Hunt Allcott

Hunt Allcott

New York University (NYU)

Rebecca Diamond

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Jean-Pierre Dubé

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Jessie Handbury

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School

Ilya M. Rahkovsky

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - Economic Research Service (ERS)

Molly Schnell

Northwestern University - Department of Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 2017

Abstract

We study the causes of “nutritional inequality”: why the wealthy eat more healthfully than the poor in the United States. Exploiting supermarket entry, household moves to healthier neighborhoods, and purchasing patterns among households with identical local supply, we reject that neighborhood environments contribute meaningfully to nutritional inequality. Using a structural demand model, we find that exposing low-income households to the same products and prices available to high-income households reduces nutritional inequality by only nine percent, while the remaining 91 percent is driven by differences in demand. These findings counter the common notion that policies to reduce supply inequities, such as “food deserts,” could play an important role in reducing nutritional inequality. By contrast, the structural results predict that means-tested subsidies for healthy food could eliminate nutritional inequality at a fiscal cost of about 15 percent of the annual budget for the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Suggested Citation

Allcott, Hunt and Diamond, Rebecca and Dube, Jean-Pierre H. and Handbury, Jessie and Rahkovsky, Ilya M. and Schnell, Molly, Food Deserts and the Causes of Nutritional Inequality (December 2017). NBER Working Paper No. w24094, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3089508

Hunt Allcott (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) ( email )

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Rebecca Diamond

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

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Jean-Pierre H. Dube

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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Jessie Handbury

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School ( email )

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Ilya M. Rahkovsky

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - Economic Research Service (ERS) ( email )

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Molly Schnell

Northwestern University - Department of Economics ( email )

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