The Effect of Stress on Later-Life Health: Evidence from the Vietnam Draft

John Cawley, Damien de Walque, Daniel Grossman

NBER Working Paper No. 23334
Issued in April 2017, Revised in April 2017
NBER Program(s):Aging, Children, Health Care, Health Economics, Public Economics

A substantial literature has examined the impact of stress during early childhood on later-life health. This paper contributes to that literature by examining the later-life health impact of stress during adolescence and early adulthood, using a novel proxy for stress: risk of military induction during the Vietnam War.

We estimate that a 10 percentage point (2 standard deviation) increase in induction risk in young adulthood is associated with a 1.5 percentage point (8%) increase in the probability of being obese and a 1 percentage point (10%) increase in the probability of being in fair or poor health later in life. This does not appear to be due to cohort effects; these associations exist only for men who did not serve in the war, and are not present for women or men who did serve.

These findings add to the evidence on the lasting consequences of stress, and also indicate that induction risk during Vietnam may, in certain contexts, be an invalid instrument for education or marriage because it appears to have a direct impact on health.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23334

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