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Health and Labor Force Participation of Older Men, 1900–1991


  • Costa, Dora L.


I investigate how the relationship between health status and retirement among older men has changed since 1900 using weight adjusted for height or Body Mass Index (BMI) as a proxy for health. I find that both in 1900 and in 1985-1991 the relative risk of labor force non-participation increases for the excessively lean and obese and that the BMI level that minimizes the relative risk of labor force non-participation remains unchanged. However, in 1900 both the relative risk of non-participation among men at low and high BMI levels and the elasticity of non-participation with respect to BMI were greater than today, suggesting that health is now less important to the retirement decision than in the past. The difference in the relative risk of non-participation is especially pronounced at high BMI levels. Declining physical job demands and improved control of chronic conditions may explain the difference. The findings suggest that the impact of improvements in health on participation rates is increasingly more likely to be outweighed by the impact of other factors. Greater efforts made to increase the incorporation of the old and disabled into the labor force may therefore have a minimal impact on retirement rates. The findings also imply that in the past the economic costs of poor health were substantial.
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  • Costa, Dora L., 1996. "Health and Labor Force Participation of Older Men, 1900–1991," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(01), pages 62-89, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:56:y:1996:i:01:p:62-89_01

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. James J. Heckman, 1976. "The Common Structure of Statistical Models of Truncation, Sample Selection and Limited Dependent Variables and a Simple Estimator for Such Models," NBER Chapters,in: Annals of Economic and Social Measurement, Volume 5, number 4, pages 475-492 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Lee, Lung-Fei, 1979. "Identification and Estimation in Binary Choice Models with Limited (Censored) Dependent Variables," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(4), pages 977-996, July.
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    4. Margo Robert A., 1993. "The Labor Force Participation of Older Americans in 1900: Further Results," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 409-423, October.
    5. Costa Dora L., 1993. "Height, Weight, Wartime Stress, and Older Age Mortality: Evidence from the Union Army Records," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 424-449, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Paul Schultz, T., 2003. "Wage rentals for reproducible human capital: evidence from Ghana and the Ivory Coast," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(3), pages 331-366, December.
    2. Linares, Claudia & Su, Dejun, 2005. "Body mass index and health among Union Army veterans: 1891-1905," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 3(3), pages 367-387, December.
    3. Dora L. Costa, 2015. "Health and the Economy in the United States from 1750 to the Present," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 53(3), pages 503-570, September.
    4. Schultz, T. Paul, 2003. "Human capital, schooling and health," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 207-221, June.
    5. Susan W. Parker, 1999. "Elderly Health and Salaries in the Mexican Labor Market," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 3259, Inter-American Development Bank.
    6. Schultz, T. Paul, 2010. "Population and Health Policies," Handbook of Development Economics, Elsevier.
    7. Jonathan Gruber, 1998. "Health Insurance and the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 6762, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Dora Costa & Richard H. Steckel, 1997. "Long-Term Trends in Health, Welfare, and Economic Growth in the United States," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 47-90 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. William D. Savedoff & T. Paul Schultz, 2000. "Earnings and the Elusive Dividends of Health," Research Department Publications 3108, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
    10. Salam Abdus & Peter Rangazas, 2011. "Adult Nutrition and Growth," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 14(4), pages 636-649, October.
    11. Daniel K. Fetter & Lee M. Lockwood, 2016. "Government Old-Age Support and Labor Supply: Evidence from the Old Age Assistance Program," NBER Working Papers 22132, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Achyuta Adhvaryu & Anant Nyshadham, 2011. "Labor Supply, Schooling and the Returns to Healthcare in Tanzania," Working Papers 995, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
    13. repec:eee:labchp:v:3:y:1999:i:pc:p:3309-3416 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Hong, Sok Chul, 2013. "Malaria: An early indicator of later disease and work level," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 612-632.
    15. Pelkowski, Jodi Messer & Berger, Mark C., 2004. "The impact of health on employment, wages, and hours worked over the life cycle," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 44(1), pages 102-121, February.
    16. John Giles & Ren Mu, 2007. "Elderly parent health and the migration decisions of adult children: Evidence from rural China," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 44(2), pages 265-288, May.
    17. repec:eee:labchp:v:3:y:1999:i:pc:p:3417-3528 is not listed on IDEAS
    18. Tobias C. Vogt & Fanny A. Kluge, 2014. "Care for Money?: Mortality Improvements, Increasing Intergenerational Transfers, and Time Devoted to the Elderly," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 721, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    19. Sok Chul Hong, 2011. "Malaria: An Early Indicator of Later Disease and Work Level," Working Papers 1110, Research Institute for Market Economy, Sogang University.
    20. Livio Di Matteo, 2008. "Wealth accumulation motives: evidence from the probate records of Ontario, 1892 and 1902," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 2(2), pages 143-171, July.
    21. Fan, Elliott & Zhao, Ruoyun, 2009. "Health status and portfolio choice: Causality or heterogeneity?," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 33(6), pages 1079-1088, June.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913


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