NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 2, 2009

Is good oral health valued in the labor market?  While there are obvious health benefits to fluoridated water, there are economic benefits as well.  Co-authors Sherry Glied and Matthew Neidell of Columbia University studied the effect of oral health on adult wages by examining the variation in access to fluoridated water during childhood.

They found:

  • Women who resided in communities with fluoridated water during childhood earn about 4 percent more than women who did not
  • However, there is no effect of fluoridation for men.
  • Furthermore, the authors estimate that losing one tooth results in an annual earnings loss of $720 a year for a typical urban woman working full-time at $11/hour.

But why does fluoridation affect women's wages and not men's?  The authors hypothesize that:

  • Women are more likely to be affected by consumer or employer discrimination on the basis of appearance.
  • Women are more likely to select into occupations based on their physical appearance.

Even when the type of occupation is controlled for, the effect of fluoridation is reduced by only 6 percent.  They conclude that their results support the "Beauty Myth" argument: that women are held to different standards of physical appearance than men.

Source:  Linda Gorman, "Having Good Teeth Can Pay Off," NBER Digest, November 2008, and Sherry Glied and Matthew Neidell, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 13879, March 2008.

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