Elisa Macchi

Elisa Macchi

PhD Student in Economics

University of Zurich


I am a PhD student in Economics at the University of Zurich.

I work at the intersection of development and behavioral economics. I am interested in how the social environment affects economic and health outcomes, with a focus on developing countries. My current field work is based in Uganda.

I am on the job market and available for interviews before, at or after the Virtual European Job Market 2020 and the ASSA 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting.

In my job-market paper, I explore the economic benefits of obesity in developing countries. In settings where information is scarce, wealth signals can play an important role. Here, I focus on obesity as a sign of wealth. Using experimental evidence from Kampala (Uganda), I demonstrate that obese people are perceived as rich and that being obese facilitates access to credit. By exploiting random variation in asymmetric information between borrowers and lenders, I conclude that – in the absence of verifiable data on wealth and earnings – body mass matters because it conveys information about a borrower’s quality.


More information is available in my CV.

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Job-Market Paper

Worth your weight? Experimental evidence on the benefits of obesity in low-income countries.

This paper provides experimental evidence on the wealth-signaling value and associated financial benefits of obesity in a low-resource setting. My empirical strategy leverages two experiments that randomly assign obesity using weight-manipulated portraits. I provide three main results. First, residents of Kampala (Uganda) perceive obesity as a reliable signal of wealth (against other traits such as beauty or health). Second, the body-mass wealth signal is exploited to mitigate asymmetric information in credit markets and in turn, being obese has financial benefits. In a real-stake field experiment with 124 Kampala credit institutions, professional loan officers screen borrowers based on body mass. Obesity facilitates access to credit. Looking at an access-to-credit index based on loan officers’ evaluations, going from normal weight to obese is equivalent to increasing a borrower’s earnings by 60%. Third, the obesity premium is driven by asymmetric information. To test for the wealth-signaling hypothesis, I vary the amount of borrowers’ financial information available to the lenders: reducing the degree of asymmetric information lowers the obesity premium by two-thirds. While these results could be consistent with standard screening mechanisms, loan officers appear to place too much weight on obesity as a wealth signal - possibly distorting the allocation of credit. On the borrowers’ side, obesity benefits are commonly known and significantly overestimated - thus inefficiently raising the perceived cost of healthy behaviors.

Other Research