Family Health Behaviors

Itzik Fadlon, Torben Heien Nielsen

NBER Working Paper No. 24042
Issued in November 2017, Revised in December 2017
NBER Program(s):Program on the Economics of Aging, Health Care Program, Health Economics Program, Labor Studies Program, Public Economics Program

This paper studies how health behaviors and investments are shaped through family spillovers. Leveraging administrative healthcare data, we identify the effects of health shocks to individuals on their family members' consumption of preventive care and health-related behaviors. Our identification strategy utilizes the timing of shocks to construct counterfactuals for affected households using households that experience the same shock but a few years in the future. We find that spouses and adult children immediately increase their health investments and improve their health behaviors in response to family shocks, and that these effects are both significant and persistent. Notably, we show that these spillover effects are far-reaching and cascade to siblings, stepchildren, sons and daughters in-law, and even “close” coworkers. While some responses are consistent with learning new information about one's own health, evidence from cases where shocks are likely uninformative points to salience as a major operative explanation. Our results underscore the importance of one's family and social network for models of health behaviors and have potential implications for policies that aim to improve population health.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24042

Published: Itzik Fadlon & Torben Heien Nielsen, 2019. "Family Health Behaviors," American Economic Review, vol 109(9), pages 3162-3191. citation courtesy of

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