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Maternal age and offspring adult health: evidence from the Health and Retirement Study


  • Mikko Myrskylä

    (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany)

  • Andrew T. Fenelon

    (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany)


Advanced maternal age is associated with negative offspring health outcomes. The interpretation often relies on physiological processes related to aging, such as decreasing oocyte quality. We use a large population-based sample of American adults to analyze how selection and lifespan overlap between generations influence the maternal age-offspring adult health association. We find that offspring born to mothers below age 25 or above 35 have worse outcomes with respect to mortality, self-rated health, height, obesity and the number of diagnosed conditions than those born to mothers aged 25-34. Controls for maternal education and age at which the child lost the mother eliminate the effect for advanced maternal age up to age 45. The association between young maternal age and negative offspring outcomes is robust to these controls. Our findings suggest that the advanced maternal age-offspring adult health association reflects selection and factors related to lifespan overlap. These may include shared frailty or parental investment, but are not directly related to the physiological health of the mother during conception, fetal development, or birth. The results for young maternal age add to the evidence suggesting that children born to young mothers might be better off if the parents waited a few years.

Suggested Citation

  • Mikko Myrskylä & Andrew T. Fenelon, 2011. "Maternal age and offspring adult health: evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2011-009, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:dem:wpaper:wp-2011-009

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jensen, Peter & Smith, Nina, 1990. "Unemployment and Marital Dissolution," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 3(3), pages 215-229, October.
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    3. Lee Lillard & Linda Waite, 1993. "A joint model of marital childbearing and marital disruption," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 30(4), pages 653-681, November.
    4. William Nilsson, 2008. "Unemployment, Splitting up, and Spousal Income Replacement," LABOUR, CEIS, vol. 22(1), pages 73-106, March.
    5. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Melvin Stephens, 2004. "Job Displacement, Disability, and Divorce," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 22(2), pages 489-522, April.
    6. Martin Dribe & Maria Stanfors, 2010. "Family life in power couples," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 23(30), pages 847-878, November.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • Z0 - Other Special Topics - - General

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