Food Deserts and the Causes of Nutritional Inequality

78 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2018 Last revised: 21 Nov 2018

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

Princeton University

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: November 21, 2018

Abstract

We study the causes of "nutritional inequality": why the wealthy eat more healthfully than the poor in the U.S. 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 fifteen percent of the annual budget for the U.S. SNAP (food stamp) program.

Keywords: Inequality, food deserts, grocery demand estimation, nutrition policy

JEL Classification: D12, I12, I14, L81, R20

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 (November 21, 2018). Stanford University Graduate School of Business Research Paper No. 18-6. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3095779 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3095779

Hunt Allcott

New York University (NYU) ( email )

Bobst Library, E-resource Acquisitions
20 Cooper Square 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003-711
United States

Rebecca Diamond

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Jean-Pierre H. Dube (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 South Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

HOME PAGE: http://gsb.uchicago.edu/fac/jean-pierre.dube

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Jessie Handbury

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

Ilya M. Rahkovsky

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

355 E Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024-3221
United States
202-694-5104 (Phone)
202-694-5688 (Fax)

Molly Schnell

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

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