Research / BFI Working PaperNov 08, 2021

Depression and Shopping Behavior

Katherine Meckel, Brad Shapiro

Using a large survey panel that connects household shopping behavior with individual health information, this paper documents correlations between self reported depression and the size and composition of shopping baskets. First, we find that roughly 16% of individuals report suffering from depression and over 30% of households have at least one member who reports suffering from depression. Households with a member suffering from depression exhibit striking differences in shopping behavior: they spend less overall, visit grocery stores less and convenience stores more frequently and spend a smaller share of their baskets on fresh produce and alcohol but a larger share on tobacco. They spend similar shares on unhealthy foods like cakes, candy, and salty snacks. These cross-sectional correlations hold within counties, suggesting that they are not driven by region specific demographics or preferences that are incidentally correlated with depression status. They also hold when considering only single-member households. However, we rule out large differences in shopping behavior within households as they change depression status. Further, using the take-up of antidepressants as an event, we document little change in shopping in response to treatment. With our results, we discuss takeaways for the economic impact of depression and for decision modeling.

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