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From Cradle to Grave? The Lasting Impact of Childhood Health and Circumstance

  • Anne Case
  • Angela Fertig
  • Christina Paxson

We quantify the lasting effects of childhood health and economic circumstances on adult health and earnings, using data from a birth cohort that has been followed from birth into middle age. We find, controlling for parents' incomes, educations and social status, that children who experience poor health have significantly lower educational attainment, and significantly poorer health and lower earnings on average as adults. Childhood factors appear to operate largely through their effects on educational attainment and initial adult health. Taken together with earlier findings that poorer children enter adulthood in worse health and with less education than wealthier children, these results indicate that a key determinant of health in adulthood is economic status in childhood rather than economic status in adulthood. Overall, our findings suggest more attention be paid to health as a potential mechanism through which intergenerational transmission of poverty takes place: cohort members born into poorer families experienced poorer childhood health, lower investments in human capital and poorer health in early adulthood, all of which are associated with lower earnings in middle age -- the years in which they themselves become parents.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9788.

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Date of creation: Jun 2003
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Case, Anne, Angela Fertig and Christina Paxson. "The Lasting Impact Of Childhood Health And Circumstances," Journal of Health Economics, 2005, v24(2,Mar), 365-389.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9788
Note: CH HC LS
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Anne Case & Angus Deaton, 2002. "Consumption, health, gender and poverty," Working Papers 261, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  2. Anne Case, 2001. "Does Money Protect Health Status? Evidence from South African Pensions," NBER Working Papers 8495, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Janet Currie & Mark Stabile, 2002. "Socioeconomic Status and Health: Why is the Relationship Stronger for Older Children?," NBER Working Papers 9098, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Rosemary Hyson & Janet Currie, 1999. "Is the Impact of Health Shocks Cushioned by Socioeconomic Status? The Case of Low Birthweight," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 245-250, May.
  5. Anne Case & Darren Lubotsky & Christina Paxson, 2001. "Economic Status and Health in Childhood: The Origins of the Gradient," NBER Working Papers 8344, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. James P. Smith, 1999. "Healthy Bodies and Thick Wallets: The Dual Relation between Health and Economic Status," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(2), pages 145-166, Spring.
  7. Kuh, D. J. L. & Wadsworth, M. E. J., 1993. "Physical health status at 36 years in a British national birth cohort," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 37(7), pages 905-916, October.
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