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The Enduring Impact of Childhood Experience on Mental Health: Evidence Using Instrumented Co-Twin Data


  • Rachel Berner Shalem
  • Francesca Cornaglia
  • Jan-Emmanuel De Neve


The question of whether there is a lasting effect of childhood experience on mental health has eluded causal measurement. We draw upon identical twin data and econometric instrumentation to provide an unbiased answer. We find that 55% of a one standard deviation change in mental health due to idiosyncratic experience at age 9 will still be present three years later. Extending the analysis, we find such persistence to vary with age at impact, gender, and mental health sub-categories. This investigation allows us to get a grasp on the degree to which childhood events influence health and socio-economic outcomes by way of their lagged effect on subsequent mental health. A better understanding of the evolution of mental health also helps identifying when mental health issues can be most effectively treated.

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  • Rachel Berner Shalem & Francesca Cornaglia & Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, 2012. "The Enduring Impact of Childhood Experience on Mental Health: Evidence Using Instrumented Co-Twin Data," CEP Discussion Papers dp1175, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  • Handle: RePEc:cep:cepdps:dp1175

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sandewall, Örjan & Cesarini, David & Johannesson, Magnus, 2014. "The co-twin methodology and returns to schooling — testing a critical assumption," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(C), pages 1-10.
    2. Goldsmith, Arthur H & Veum, Jonathan R & Darity, William, Jr, 1997. "The Impact of Psychological and Human Capital on Wages," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 35(4), pages 815-829, October.
    3. Case, Anne & Fertig, Angela & Paxson, Christina, 2005. "The lasting impact of childhood health and circumstance," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 365-389, March.
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    More about this item


    mental health; childhood experience; twin study; instrumental variable analysis;

    JEL classification:

    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General

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