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Health, Height, Height Shrinkage and SES at Older Ages: Evidence from China

  • Huang, Wei


    (Harvard University)

  • Lei, Xiaoyan


    (Peking University)

  • Ridder, Geert


    (University of Southern California)

  • Strauss, John


    (University of Southern California)

  • Zhao, Yaohui


    (Peking University)

Adult height, as a marker of childhood health, has recently become a focus in understanding the relationship between childhood health and health outcomes at older ages. However, measured height of the older individuals is contaminated by height shrinkage from aging. Height shrinkage, in turn may be correlated with health conditions and socio-economic status from throughout the life-cycle. In this case it would be problematic to use measured height directly in regressions without considering such an effect. In this paper, we tackle this problem by using upper arm length and lower leg length to estimate a pre-shrinkage height function for a younger population that should not have started their shrinkage. We then use these estimated coefficients to predict pre-shrinkage heights for an older population, for which we also have upper arm and lower leg lengths. We then estimate height shrinkage for this older population and examine the associations between shrinkage and socio-economic status variables. We provide evidence that height shrinkage for both men and women is negatively associated with better current SES and early life conditions and, for women, positively with pre-shrinkage height. We then investigate the relationships between pre-shrinkage height, height shrinkage and a rich set of health outcomes of older respondents, finding that height shrinkage is positively associated with poor health outcomes across a variety of outcomes, with results for older age cognition being especially strong. Indeed height shrinkage is more strongly associated with later life outcomes than is pre-shrinkage height, suggesting that later life conditions are especially important correlates for these outcomes.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 6489.

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Length: 50 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in: American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 5(2): 86-121.
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6489
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  1. Richard H. Steckel, 2008. "Heights and Human Welfare: Recent Developments and New Directions," NBER Working Papers 14536, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Duncan Thomas & John Strauss & Maria-Helena Henriques, 1991. "How Does Mother's Education Affect Child Height?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 26(2), pages 183-211.
  3. Glewwe, Paul & Miguel, Edward A., 2008. "The Impact of Child Health and Nutrition on Education in Less Developed Countries," Handbook of Development Economics, Elsevier.
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  6. Case, Anne & Paxson, Christina & Islam, Mahnaz, 2009. "Making sense of the labor market height premium: Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 102(3), pages 174-176, March.
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  10. Ridder, Geert & Moffitt, Robert, 2007. "The Econometrics of Data Combination," Handbook of Econometrics, in: J.J. Heckman & E.E. Leamer (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 6, chapter 75 Elsevier.
  11. Douglas Almond & Janet Currie, 2011. "Killing Me Softly: The Fetal Origins Hypothesis," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(3), pages 153-72, Summer.
  12. Carlos Bozzoli & Angus Deaton & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2008. "Adult height and childhood disease," Working Papers 1119, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  13. Harold Alderman & Jere R. Behrman, 2006. "Reducing the Incidence of Low Birth Weight in Low-Income Countries Has Substantial Economic Benefits," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 21(1), pages 25-48.
  14. Cutler, David M. & Lleras-Muney, Adriana, 2010. "Understanding differences in health behaviors by education," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 1-28, January.
  15. Heineck, Guido, 2009. "Too tall to be smart? The relationship between height and cognitive abilities," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 105(1), pages 78-80, October.
  16. Strauss, John & Thomas, Duncan, 2008. "Health over the Life Course," Handbook of Development Economics, Elsevier.
  17. Maurer, J├╝rgen, 2010. "Height, education and later-life cognition in Latin America and the Caribbean," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 168-176, July.
  18. Gerard J. van den Berg & Maarten Lindeboom & France Portrait, 2006. "Economic Conditions Early in Life and Individual Mortality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(1), pages 290-302, March.
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