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Childhood Economic Conditions and Length of Life: Evidence from the UK Boyd Orr Cohort, 1937–2005


  • Frijters, Paul

    () (London School of Economics)

  • Shields, Michael A.

    () (Monash University)

  • Hatton, Timothy J.

    () (University of Essex)

  • Martin, Richard M.

    () (University of Bristol)


We study the importance of childhood socioeconomic conditions in explaining differences in life expectancy using data from a sample of around 5,000 children collected in the UK in 1937-39, who have been traced through official death records up to 2005. We estimate a number of duration of life models that control for unobserved household heterogeneity. Our results confirm that childhood conditions such as household income and the quality of the home environment are significant predictors of longevity. Importantly, however, the role of socio-economic status appears to differ across cause of death, with household income only being a significant predictor of death from cancer. Moreover, we find that children born in a location with relatively high infant mortality rates live significantly fewer years, that 1st born children in the family live significantly more years, and that there is a very high correlation in longevity across children from the same family across all causes of death. We estimate that the difference in life expectancy between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ households is as large as 11 years.

Suggested Citation

  • Frijters, Paul & Shields, Michael A. & Hatton, Timothy J. & Martin, Richard M., 2007. "Childhood Economic Conditions and Length of Life: Evidence from the UK Boyd Orr Cohort, 1937–2005," IZA Discussion Papers 3042, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3042

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alison Booth & Hiau Kee, 2009. "Birth order matters: the effect of family size and birth order on educational attainment," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 22(2), pages 367-397, April.
    2. Modin, Bitte, 2002. "Birth order and mortality: a life-long follow-up of 14,200 boys and girls born in early 20th century Sweden," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 54(7), pages 1051-1064, April.
    3. Carlos Bozzoli & Angus Deaton & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2007. "Child mortality, income and adult height," Working Papers 162, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
    4. 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.
    5. Timothy J. Hatton & Roy >. Bailey, 2000. "Seebohm Rowntree and the postwar poverty puzzle," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 53(3), pages 517-543, August.
    6. Jenifer Hamil-Luker & Angela O’rand, 2007. "Gender differences in the link between childhood socioeconomic conditions and heart attack risk in adulthood," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 44(1), pages 137-158, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pfeiffer, Friedhelm & Reuss, Karsten, 2013. "Improving Educational Investments: A Welfare Analysis for Europe," Regional and Sectoral Economic Studies, Euro-American Association of Economic Development, vol. 13(3), pages 77-94.
    2. Flèche, Sarah & Lekfuangfu, Warn & Clark, Andrew E., "undated". "The Long-Lasting Effects of Family and Childhood on Adult Wellbeing: Evidence from British Cohort Data," CEPREMAP Working Papers (Docweb) 1803, CEPREMAP.
    3. Frijters, Paul & Johnston, David W. & Shields, Michael A., 2011. "Destined for (Un)Happiness: Does Childhood Predict Adult Life Satisfaction?," IZA Discussion Papers 5819, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Pfeiffer, Friedhelm, 2013. "On the Power of Childhood Impressions for Skill Formation: Initial Evidence and Unsettled Questions," IZA Discussion Papers 7217, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Gary Yeung & Gerard Berg & Maarten Lindeboom & France Portrait, 2014. "The impact of early-life economic conditionson cause-specific mortality during adulthood," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 27(3), pages 895-919, July.
    6. Martine Mariotti, 2015. "Fathers' Employment and Sons' Stature: The Long-Run Effects of a Positive Regional Employment Shock in South Africa's Mining Industry," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63(3), pages 485-514.
    7. Alan Fernihough & Mark McGovern, 2014. "Do fertility transitions influence infant mortality declines? Evidence from early modern Germany," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 27(4), pages 1145-1163, October.
    8. Martine Mariotti, 2012. "Living Standards In South Africa's Former Homelands," CEH Discussion Papers 003, Centre for Economic History, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
    9. Thompson, Owen, 2011. "Racial disparities in the cognition-health relationship," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 328-339, March.
    10. Brandt, Martina & Deindl, Christian & Hank, Karsten, 2012. "Tracing the origins of successful aging: The role of childhood conditions and social inequality in explaining later life health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(9), pages 1418-1425.
    11. Paul Frijters & David W. Johnston & Michael A. Shields, 2014. "Does Childhood Predict Adult Life Satisfaction? Evidence from British Cohort Surveys," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 124(580), pages 688-719, November.
    12. Powdthavee, Nattavudh & Stutzer, Alois, 2014. "Economic Approaches to Understanding Change in Happiness," IZA Discussion Papers 8131, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    13. Lo, Te-Fen & Hsieh, Chee-Ruey, 2013. "Dynamic profile of health investment and the evolution of elderly health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 134-142.

    More about this item


    length of life; duration models; socio-economic characteristics; childhood;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior

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