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

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Listed:
  • 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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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bu, Feifei, 2014. "Sibling configurations, educational aspiration and attainment," ISER Working Paper Series 2014-11, Institute for Social and Economic Research.
    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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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Björkegren, Evelina & Svaleryd, Helena, 2017. "Birth Order and Child Health," Working Paper Series 2017:16, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.
    2. Lena Detlefsen & Andreas Friedl & Katharina Lima de Miranda & Ulrich Schmidt & Matthias Sutter, 2018. "Are economic preferences shaped by the family context? The impact of birth order and siblings’ sex composition on economic preferences," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2018_12, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    3. 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).
    4. repec:eee:ehbiol:v:33:y:2019:i:c:p:29-39 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. 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.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Birth order; Health; Early childhood investment;

    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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