NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Causes and Consequences of Early Life Health

Anne Case, Christina Paxson

NBER Working Paper No. 15637
Issued in January 2010
NBER Program(s):   AG   CH   PE

We examine the consequences of childhood health for economic and health outcomes in adulthood, using height as a marker of health in childhood. After reviewing previous evidence, we present a conceptual framework that highlights data limitations and methodological problems associated with the study of this topic. We present estimates of the associations between height and a range of outcomes, including schooling, employment, earnings, health and cognitive ability, using data collected from early to late adulthood on cohort members in five longitudinal data sets. We find height is uniformly associated with better economic, health and cognitive outcomes - a result only partially explained by the higher average educational attainment of taller individuals. We then turn to the NLSY79 Children and Young Adult Survey to better understand what specific aspects of early childhood are captured by height. We find, even among maternal siblings, taller siblings score better on cognitive tests and progress through school more quickly. Part of the differences found between siblings arises from differences in their birth weights and lengths attributable to mother's behaviors while pregnant. Taken together, these results support the hypothesis that childhood health influences health and economic status throughout the life course.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15637

Published: Anne Case & Christina Paxson, 2010. "Causes and consequences of early-life health," Demography, Springer, vol. 47(1), pages S65-S85, March. citation courtesy of

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