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Healthy(?), wealthy, and wise: Birth order and adult health

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  • Black, Sandra E.
  • Devereux, Paul J.
  • Salvanes, Kjell G.

Abstract

While recent research has found that birth order affects outcomes such as education and earnings, the evidence for effects on health is more limited. This paper uses a large Norwegian dataset to focus on the relationship between birth order and a range of health and health-related behaviors, outcomes not previously available in datasets of this magnitude. Interestingly, we find complicated effects of birth order. First-borns are more likely to be overweight, to be obese, and to have high blood pressure and high triglycerides. For example, compared to fifth-borns, first-borns are about 5% points more likely to be obese and 7% points more likely to have high blood pressure. So, unlike education or earnings, there is no clear first-born advantage in health. However, first-borns are about 13% points less likely to smoke daily than fifth-borns and are more likely to report good physical and mental health. Later-borns also score lower on well-being with fifth-borns being about 9% points less likely than first-borns to report that they are happy. Our findings are generally monotonic with middle-borns having outcomes that are intermediate between first- and fifth-borns. We find that these effects are largely unaffected by conditioning on education and earnings, suggesting that these are not the only important pathways to health differentials by birth order. When we explore possible mechanisms, we find that early maternal investment may play a role in birth order effects on health.

Suggested Citation

  • Black, Sandra E. & Devereux, Paul J. & Salvanes, Kjell G., 2016. "Healthy(?), wealthy, and wise: Birth order and adult health," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 27-45.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:23:y:2016:i:c:p:27-45
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ehb.2016.06.005
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    2. Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2007. "From the Cradle to the Labor Market? The Effect of Birth Weight on Adult Outcomes," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(1), pages 409-439.
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    Cited by:

    1. Conzo, Pierluigi & Zotti, Roberto, 2020. "Blessed are the first: The long-term effect of birth order on trust," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 39(C).
    2. Björkegren, Evelina & Svaledry, Helena, 2017. "Birth Order and Child Health," Working Paper Series 2017:3, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
    3. Aline Bütikofer & Julie Riise & Meghan M. Skira, 2021. "The Impact of Paid Maternity Leave on Maternal Health," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 13(1), pages 67-105, February.
    4. Detlefsen, Lena & Friedl, Andreas & Lima de Miranda, Katharina & Schmidt, Ulrich & Sutter, Matthias, 2018. "Are Economic Preferences Shaped by the Family Context? The Impact of Birth Order and Siblings' Sex Composition on Economic Preferences," IZA Discussion Papers 11949, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Pruckner, Gerald J. & Schneeweis, Nicole & Schober, Thomas & Zweimüller, Martina, 2021. "Birth order, parental health investment, and health in childhood," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(C).
    6. Mats Lillehagen & Martin Arstad Isungset, 2020. "New Partner, New Order? Multipartnered Fertility and Birth Order Effects on Educational Achievement," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 57(5), pages 1625-1646, October.
    7. Anne Ardila Brenøe & Ramona Molitor, 2015. "Birth Order and Health of Newborns: What Can We Learn from Danish Registry Data?," Working Papers 161, Bavarian Graduate Program in Economics (BGPE).
    8. Wanchuan Lin & Juan Pantano & Shuqiao Sun, 2020. "Birth order and unwanted fertility," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 33(2), pages 413-440, April.
    9. Donna K. Ginther & Astrid L. Grasdal & Robert A. Pollak, 2019. "Fathers' Multiple-Partner Fertility and Children’s Educational Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 26242, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Lucio Esposito & Sunil Mitra Kumar & Adrián Villaseñor, 2020. "The importance of being earliest: birth order and educational outcomes along the socioeconomic ladder in Mexico," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 33(3), pages 1069-1099, July.
    11. Handy, Christopher & Shester, Katharine, 2020. "The Effect of Birth Order on Educational Attainment among the Baby Boom Generation," MPRA Paper 102426, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    12. Kunto, Yohanes Sondang & Mandemakers, Jornt J., 2019. "The effects of prenatal exposure to Ramadan on stature during childhood and adolescence: Evidence from the Indonesian Family Life Survey," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 29-39.
    13. Anne Ardila Brenoee & Ramona Molitor, 2015. "Birth Order and Health of Newborns: What Can We Learn from Danish Registry Data?," CINCH Working Paper Series 1513, Universitaet Duisburg-Essen, Competent in Competition and Health, revised Oct 2015.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Birth order; Health; Early childhood investment;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior

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