Health Shocks of the Father and Longevity of the Children's Children
Whether and how a paternal health shock cascades across multiple generations to affect descendant health is understudied even though a link between ancestral living conditions and descendant health may constitute an important source of differences in the stock of health capital across families and thus across ethnic, racial and social groups. I study how a paternal health shock affects grandchildren's longevity in a unique setting where the ancestral stressor is the grandfather's ex-POW status in the US Civil War (1861-5) and the children are born after the war. Ancestral stress is associated with longevity after age 45 of male-line grandsons but not of granddaughters or female-line grandchildren. I rule out transmission through socioeconomic channels and direct cultural transmission from grandfather to grandson. An epigenetic explanation is consistent with observed male-line transmission at epigenetically sensitive ancestral ages and mediation by own late gestational conditions. Consistent with epigenetic reprogramming depending on the in-utero environment, the association between the veteran's ex-POW status and that of his male-line descendants declines across generations.
I have benefitted from the comments of seminar participants at Vanderbilt, UCLA, and University of Duisburg-Essen. I thank Noelle Yetter, Heather DeSomer, Sandra Mason, Coralee Lewis, Heather Giles, Irene Clark, Janice Faulconer, and Annalisa Crain for their tremendous work in creating the datasets. I gratefully acknowledge the support of UCLA and of NIH grants P01 AG10120 and R21 AG064460 and the use of facilities and resources at the California Center for Population Research, UCLA, which is supported in part by NICDH grant P2C HD041022. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.