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


  • Huang, Wei

    () (National University of Singapore)

  • 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Huang, Wei & Lei, Xiaoyan & Ridder, Geert & Strauss, John & Zhao, Yaohui, 2012. "Health, Height, Height Shrinkage and SES at Older Ages: Evidence from China," IZA Discussion Papers 6489, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6489

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Sohn, Kitae, 2015. "The value of male height in the marriage market," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 18(C), pages 110-124.
    2. Scott A. Carson, 2017. "Assessing Cumulative Net Nutrition and the Transition from 19th Century Bound to Free-Labor by Ethnic Status," CESifo Working Paper Series 6813, CESifo Group Munich.
    3. Fernihough, Alan & McGovern, Mark E., 2015. "Physical stature decline and the health status of the elderly population in England," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 16(C), pages 30-44.
    4. McGovern, Mark E., 2014. "Comparing the relationship between stature and later life health in six low and middle income countries," The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, Elsevier, vol. 4(C), pages 128-148.
    5. Lei, Xiaoyan & Sun, Xiaoting & Strauss, John & Zhang, Peng & Zhao, Yaohui, 2014. "Depressive symptoms and SES among the mid-aged and elderly in China: Evidence from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study national baseline," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 224-232.
    6. Kitae Sohn, 2016. "Height and Happiness in a Developing Country," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 17(1), pages 1-23, February.
    7. Alan Fernihough & Mark E. McGovern, 2013. "A Tall Story: Characteristics, Causes, and Consequences of Stature Loss," The Institute for International Integration Studies Discussion Paper Series iiisdp429, IIIS.
    8. Osea Giuntella & Wei Han & Fabrizio Mazzonna, 2017. "Circadian Rhythms, Sleep, and Cognitive Skills: Evidence From an Unsleeping Giant," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 54(5), pages 1715-1742, October.
    9. Janet Currie & Tom Vogl, 2013. "Early-Life Health and Adult Circumstance in Developing Countries," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 5(1), pages 1-36, May.
    10. Huang, Wei & Zhou, Yi, 2013. "Effects of education on cognition at older ages: Evidence from China's Great Famine," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 54-62.
    11. Sohn, Kitae, 2015. "The height premium in Indonesia," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 16(C), pages 1-15.
    12. Vogl, Tom S., 2014. "Height, skills, and labor market outcomes in Mexico," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 84-96.
    13. repec:pri:rpdevs:currie_vogl_ar is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Mosca, Irene & Wright, Robert E., 2016. "Height and cognition at older ages: Irish evidence," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 149(C), pages 98-101.
    15. Huang, Wei & Luo, Mi, 2015. "Overconfidence and Health Insurance Participation among the Elderly," IZA Discussion Papers 9481, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    16. Daniel LaFave & Duncan Thomas, 2016. "Height and Cognition at Work: Labor Market Productivity in a Low Income Setting," NBER Working Papers 22290, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Tom Vogl, 2012. "Height, Skills, and Labor Market Outcomes in Mexico," NBER Working Papers 18318, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item


    health; height shrinkage; height; China;

    JEL classification:

    • D1 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth

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