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The Long Reach of Childhood Health and Circumstance: Evidence from the Whitehall II Study

  • Anne Case
  • Christina Paxson

We use data from the Whitehall II Study to examine the joint evolution of health status and economic status over the life course. We study the links between health and socioeconomic status in childhood and health and employment status in middle and older ages. Because the population from which this cohort was drawn consisted almost exclusively of white collar civil servants, the Whitehall II sample will in general provide inconsistent estimates of the association between childhood conditions and adult outcomes for the population as a whole. To sign the direction of the bias, we compare our findings for Whitehall II with those from two nationally representative data sets in which we can mimic selection into white collar positions. We find that the Whitehall II estimates are systematically lower than those from our nationally representative cohorts, until we restrict those cohorts to their white collar members only. In contrast to researchers who have used the Whitehall II data to argue against parental disadvantage as an explanation of socioeconomic inequality in health, we find early life socioeconomic status is significantly associated with health over the life course. Using fixed effect first-difference models, we examine the association between health and employment status in middle age and health and employment status at older ages. We find that current position in the civil service is not associated with future health, but current self-assessed health is significantly associated with promotion in the civil service.

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Article provided by Royal Economic Society in its journal The Economic Journal.

Volume (Year): 121 (2011)
Issue (Month): 554 (08)
Pages: F183-F204

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Handle: RePEc:ecj:econjl:v:121:y:2011:i:554:p:f183-f204
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  1. Sandra E. Black & Paul Devereux & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2007. "From the Cradle to the Labor Market? The Effect of Birth Weight on Adult Outcomes," Working Papers 200718, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  2. Anne Case & Christina Paxson, 2010. "Causes and Consequences of Early Life Health," NBER Working Papers 15637, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Angus S. Deaton & Raksha Arora, 2009. "Life at the top: the benefits of height," NBER Working Papers 15090, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Janet Currie, 2009. "Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Socioeconomic Status, Poor Health in Childhood, and Human Capital Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(1), pages 87-122, March.
  5. Anne Case & Christina Paxson, 2000. "Mothers and Others: Who Invests in Children’s Health?," Working Papers 277, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  6. Anne Case & Christina Paxson & Mahnaz Islam, 2008. "Making Sense of the Labor Market Height Premium: Evidence From the British Household Panel Survey," NBER Working Papers 14007, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. James P. Smith, 2007. "The Impact of Socioeconomic Status on Health over the Life-Course," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(4).
  8. Chandola, Tarani & Bartley, Mel & Sacker, Amanda & Jenkinson, Crispin & Marmot, Michael, 2003. "Health selection in the Whitehall II study, UK," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(10), pages 2059-2072, May.
  9. In Utero, 2006. "Is the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Over? Long-Term Effects of In Utero Influenza Exposure in the Post-1940 U.S. Population," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(4), pages 672-712, August.
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