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Healthy(?), Wealthy and Wise: Birth Order and Adult Health

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  • Sandra E. Black
  • Paul J. Devereux
  • Kjell G. Salvanes

Abstract

While recent research finds strong evidence that birth order affects children’s outcomes such as education, IQ scores, and earnings, the evidence for effects on health is more limited. This paper uses a large dataset on the population of Norway and focuses on the effect of birth order on a range of health and health-related behaviors, outcomes not previously available in datasets of this magnitude. Interestingly, we find complicated effects of birth order. First-borns are more likely to be overweight, to be obese, and to have high blood pressure and high triglycerides. So, unlike education or earnings, there is no clear first-born advantage in health. However, later-borns are more likely to smoke and have poorer self-reported physical and mental health. They are also less likely to report that they are happy. We find that these effects are largely unaffected by conditioning on education and earnings, suggesting that these are not the only important pathways to health differentials by birth order. When we explore possible mechanisms, we find that smoking early in pregnancy is more prevalent for first pregnancies than for later ones. However, women are more likely to quit smoking during their first pregnancy than during later ones, and first-borns are more likely to be breast-fed. These findings suggest a role for early maternal investment in determining birth order effects on health.

Suggested Citation

  • Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2015. "Healthy(?), Wealthy and Wise: Birth Order and Adult Health," NBER Working Papers 21337, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21337
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Enkelejda Havari & Marco Savegnago, 2022. "The intergenerational effects of birth order on education," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 35(1), pages 349-377, January.
    2. Conzo, Pierluigi & Zotti, Roberto, 2020. "Blessed are the first: The long-term effect of birth order on trust," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 39(C).
    3. Sandra E. Black & Erik Grönqvist & Björn Öckert, 2018. "Born to Lead? The Effect of Birth Order on Noncognitive Abilities," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 100(2), pages 274-286, May.
    4. Björkegren, Evelina & Svaledry, Helena, 2017. "Birth Order and Child Health," Working Paper Series 2017:3, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
    5. Björkegren, Evelina & Svaleryd, Helena, 2023. "Birth order and health disparities throughout the life course," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 318(C).
    6. Aline Bütikofer & Julie Riise & Meghan M. Skira, 2021. "The Impact of Paid Maternity Leave on Maternal Health," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 13(1), pages 67-105, February.
    7. Detlefsen, Lena & Friedl, Andreas & Lima de Miranda, Katharina & Schmidt, Ulrich & Sutter, Matthias, 2018. "Are Economic Preferences Shaped by the Family Context? The Impact of Birth Order and Siblings' Sex Composition on Economic Preferences," IZA Discussion Papers 11949, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    8. Pruckner, Gerald J. & Schneeweis, Nicole & Schober, Thomas & Zweimüller, Martina, 2021. "Birth order, parental health investment, and health in childhood," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(C).
    9. Mats Lillehagen & Martin Arstad Isungset, 2020. "New Partner, New Order? Multipartnered Fertility and Birth Order Effects on Educational Achievement," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 57(5), pages 1625-1646, October.
    10. Anne Ardila Brenøe & Ramona Molitor, 2015. "Birth Order and Health of Newborns: What Can We Learn from Danish Registry Data?," Working Papers 161, Bavarian Graduate Program in Economics (BGPE).
    11. Wanchuan Lin & Juan Pantano & Shuqiao Sun, 2020. "Birth order and unwanted fertility," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 33(2), pages 413-440, April.
    12. Houmark, Mikkel Aagaard, 2023. "First Among Equals? How Birth Order Shapes Child Development," MPRA Paper 119325, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Donna K. Ginther & Astrid L. Grasdal & Robert A. Pollak, 2019. "Fathers' Multiple-Partner Fertility and Children’s Educational Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 26242, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Lucio Esposito & Sunil Mitra Kumar & Adrián Villaseñor, 2020. "The importance of being earliest: birth order and educational outcomes along the socioeconomic ladder in Mexico," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 33(3), pages 1069-1099, July.
    15. Beltramo, Theresa P. & Calvi, Rossella & De Giorgi, Giacomo & Sarr, Ibrahima, 2023. "Child poverty among refugees," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 171(C).
    16. Handy, Christopher & Shester, Katharine, 2020. "The Effect of Birth Order on Educational Attainment among the Baby Boom Generation," MPRA Paper 102426, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    17. Gregory Clark & Neil Cummins, 2024. "Birth Order and Social Outcomes, England, 1680-2024," Working Papers 0254, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    18. Zhang, Shumeng & Guo, Naijia & Zhang, Junsen, 2023. "Reexamining the effect of birth order on cognitive and non-cognitive abilities: New evidence from China," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 97(C).
    19. Rodríguez-Planas, Nuria & Sanz-de-Galdeano, Anna & Terskaya, Anastasia, 2022. "Gender norms in high school: Impacts on risky behaviors from adolescence to adulthood," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 196(C), pages 429-456.
    20. Kunto, Yohanes Sondang & Mandemakers, Jornt J., 2019. "The effects of prenatal exposure to Ramadan on stature during childhood and adolescence: Evidence from the Indonesian Family Life Survey," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 29-39.
    21. Anne Ardila Brenoee & Ramona Molitor, 2015. "Birth Order and Health of Newborns: What Can We Learn from Danish Registry Data?," CINCH Working Paper Series 1513, Universitaet Duisburg-Essen, Competent in Competition and Health, revised Oct 2015.
    22. Christopher Handy & Katharine L. Shester, 2022. "Birth order and the decline in college completion among the baby boom generation," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 60(4), pages 1626-1643, October.

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    20. Bu, Feifei, 2014. "Sibling configurations, educational aspiration and attainment," ISER Working Paper Series 2014-11, Institute for Social and Economic Research.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics

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