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The Influence of Early-Life Events on Human Capital, Health Status, and Labor Market Outcomes Over the Life Course


  • Johnson, Rucker C.
  • Schoeni, Robert F.


Using nationally representative data from the US, this study provides evidence on the relationship between early life conditions and cognition, human capital accumulation, labor market outcomes, and health status in adulthood. We find that poor health at birth and limited parental resources (including low income, lack of health insurance, and unwanted pregnancy) interfere with cognitive development and health capital in childhood, reduce educational attainment, and lead to worse labor market and health outcomes in adulthood. These effects are substantial, and they are robust to the inclusion of sibling fixed effects and an extensive set of controls. The results reveal that low birth weight ages you by 12 years, increases the odds of dropping out of high school by one-third, lowers labor force participation by 5 percentage points, and reduces labor market earnings by roughly 15 percent. Not only are socioeconomic factors determinants of poor birth outcomes, but they also influence the lasting impacts of poor infant health when it occurs. In particular, the negative long-run consequences of low birth weight are larger among children whose parents did not have health insurance. While poor birth outcomes reduce human capital accumulation, this consequence explains only 10% of the total effect of low birth weight on labor market earnings. The study also finds that racial differences in adult health can be explained by a few early life factors: birth weight, parental income, and parental health insurance coverage. Finally, the paper sheds light on the well known strong relationship between education and health outcomes; we find that sibling models that account for time-invariant family factors reduce the effects of education on health substantially, but the remaining effects are large. Taken together, the evidence is consistent with a negative reinforcing intergenerational transmission of disadvantage within the family; parental economic status influences birth outcomes, birth outcomes have long reaching effects on health and economic status in adulthood, which in turn leads to poor birth outcomes for one’s own children.

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  • Johnson, Rucker C. & Schoeni, Robert F., 2007. "The Influence of Early-Life Events on Human Capital, Health Status, and Labor Market Outcomes Over the Life Course," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt71p310w1, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdl:indrel:qt71p310w1

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Datta Gupta, Nabanita & Smith, Nina, 2002. "Children and Career Interruptions: The Family Gap in Denmark," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 69(276), pages 609-629, November.
    2. Dex, Shirley & Joshi, Heather, 1999. "Careers and Motherhood: Policies for Compatibility," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(5), pages 641-659, September.
    3. Esping-Andersen, Gosta, 1999. "Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198742005, June.
    4. Davies, Rhys & Pierre, Gaelle, 2005. "The family gap in pay in Europe: a cross-country study," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(4), pages 469-486, August.
    5. Abbigail J. Chiodo & Michael T. Owyang, 2002. "For love or money: why married men make more," The Regional Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Apr, pages 10-11.
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    Cited by:

    1. Chatterji, Pinka & Lahiri, Kajal & Kim, Dohyung, 2014. "Fetal growth and neurobehavioral outcomes in childhood," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 15(C), pages 187-200.
    2. Manan Roy, 2014. "How well does the U.S. Government provide health insurance for infants?," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 46(1), pages 253-284, February.
    3. Warren, John Robert & Knies, Laurie & Haas, Steven & Hernandez, Elaine M., 2012. "The impact of childhood sickness on adult socioeconomic outcomes: Evidence from late 19th century America," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(8), pages 1531-1538.
    4. Heflin, Colleen M. & Acevedo, Sharon Kukla, 2011. "Non-income effects of welfare receipt on early childhood cognitive scores," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(5), pages 634-643, May.
    5. Jason M. Fletcher & Jody L. Sindelar, 2009. "Estimating Causal Effects of Early Occupational Choice on Later Health: Evidence Using the PSID," NBER Working Papers 15256, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Hector Cebolla-Boado & Leire Salazar, 2016. "Differences in perinatal health between immigrant and native-origin children: Evidence from differentials in birth weight in Spain," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 35(7), pages 167-200, July.
    7. Richard Akresh & Redstone Akresh, 2011. "Using Achievement Tests to Measure Language Assimilation and Language Bias among the Children of Immigrants," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 46(3), pages 647-667.
    8. 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.


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