Health, Education, and Income in the United States, 1820-2000

Hoyt Bleakley, Dora Costa, Adriana Lleras-Muney

Chapter in NBER book Human Capital in History: The American Record (2014), Leah P. Boustan, Carola Frydman, and Robert A. Margo, editors (p. 121 - 159)
Conference held December 7-8, 2012
Published in October 2014 by University of Chicago Press
© 2014 by the National Bureau of Economic Research

We document the correlations between early childhood health (as proxied by height) and educational attainment and investigate the labor market and wealth returns to height for United States cohorts born between 1820 and 1990. The nineteenth century was characterized by low investments in height and education, a small correlation between height and education, and positive but small returns for both height and education. The relationship between height and education was stronger in the twentieth century and stronger in the first part of the twentieth century than later on (when both investments in education and height stalled), but never as strong as in developing countries. The labor market and wealth returns to height and education also were higher in the twentieth compared to the nineteenth century. We relate our findings to the theory of human capital formation and speculate that the greater importance of physical labor in the nineteenth century economy, which raised the opportunity cost of schooling, may have depressed the height-education relationship relative to the twentieth century. Our findings are consistent with an increasing importance of cognitive abilities acquired in early childhood.

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This paper was revised on November 12, 2013

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w19162, Health, Education and Income in the United States, 1820-2000, Hoyt Bleakley, Dora Costa, Adriana Lleras-Muney
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