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Becoming Oldest-Old: Evidence from Historical U.S. Data

  • Dora L. Costa
  • Joanna Lahey

We argue that the environment determines life span, using historical data to show that such indicators of environmental insults in early childhood and young adulthood as quarter of birth, residence, occupation, wealth, and the incidence of specific infectious diseases affected older age mortality. Consistent with improvements in early life factors, we find that the effect of quarter of birth on older age mortality has diminished over the twentieth century and that the declining impact of quarter of birth explains 16 to 17 percent of the difference in ten year mortality rates of Americans age 60-79 in 1900 and in 1960-1980. We estimate that at least one-fifth of the increase between 1900 and 1999 in the probability of a 65 year old surviving to age 85 may be attributable to early life conditions. We also present suggestive evidence on the mortality trajectory of the oldest old in the first half of the twentieth century that implies that the shape of the mortality trajectory, though not its level, has remained constant.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9933.

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Date of creation: Sep 2003
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Publication status: published as Costa, Dora L. and Joanna Lahey. "Becoming Oldest-Old: Evidence from Historial US Data." Genus 61, 1 (2005): 125-6.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9933
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  1. Costa, Dora L., 2004. "Race and Pregnancy Outcomes in the Twentieth Century: A Long-Term Comparison," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 64(04), pages 1056-1086, December.
  2. Dora Costa, 2002. "Changing chronic disease rates and longterm declines in functional limitation among older men," Demography, Springer, vol. 39(1), pages 119-137, February.
  3. Dora L. Costa, 2000. "Understanding Mid-Life and Older Age Mortality Declines: Evidence from Union Army Veterans," NBER Working Papers 8000, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Shiro Horiuchi & John Wilmoth, 1998. "Deceleration in the age pattern of mortality at olderages," Demography, Springer, vol. 35(4), pages 391-412, November.
  5. Martin Neil Baily & Alan M. Garber, 1997. "Health Care Productivity," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(1997 Micr), pages 143-216.
  6. Mario Sanchez, 2003. "Internal Migration, Return Migration, and Mortality. Evidence from Panel Data on Union Army Veterans," NBER Chapters, in: Health and Labor Force Participation over the Life Cycle: Evidence from the Past, pages 203-230 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Steckel, Richard H., 1988. "The Health and Mortality of Women and Children, 1850–1860," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 48(02), pages 333-345, June.
  8. Chulhee Lee, 2003. "Prior Exposure to Disease and Later Health and Mortality. Evidence from Civil War Medical Records," NBER Chapters, in: Health and Labor Force Participation over the Life Cycle: Evidence from the Past, pages 51-88 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Kenneth Y. Chay & Michael Greenstone, 1999. "The Impact of Air Pollution on Infant Mortality: Evidence from Geographic Variation in Pollution Shocks Induced by a Recession," NBER Working Papers 7442, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Dora L. Costa, 1998. "Understanding the Twentieth Century Decline in Chronic Conditions Among Older Men," NBER Working Papers 6859, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Samuel H. Preston & Michael R. Haines, 1991. "Fatal Years: Child Mortality in Late Nineteenth-Century America," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number pres91-1, October.
  12. Kenneth Manton & Eric Stallard & Larry Corder, 1997. "Changes in the age dependence of mortality and disability: Cohort and other determinants," Demography, Springer, vol. 34(1), pages 135-157, February.
  13. Fogel, Robert W, 1994. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 369-95, June.
  14. Steckel, Richard H., 1986. "A Peculiar Population: The Nutrition, Health, and Mortality of American Slaves from Childhood to Maturity," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(03), pages 721-741, September.
  15. Dora L. Costa & Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Long-Term Trends in Health, Welfare, and Economic Growth in the United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0076, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Goldin, Claudia & Margo, Robert A., 1989. "The poor at birth: Birth weights and infant mortality at Philadelphia's almshouse hospital, 1848-1873," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 360-379, July.
  17. Dora L. Costa, 2003. "Health and Labor Force Participation over the Life Cycle: Evidence from the Past," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number cost03-1, October.
  18. Preston, Samuel H. & Hill, Mark E. & Drevenstedt, Greg L., 1998. "Childhood conditions that predict survival to advanced ages among African-Americans," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 47(9), pages 1231-1246, November.
  19. Adriana Lleras-Muney, 2002. "The Relationship Between Education and Adult Mortality in the United States," NBER Working Papers 8986, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Arjan Gjonca & Hilke Brockmann & Heiner Maier, 2000. "Old-Age Mortality in Germany prior to and after Reunification," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 3(1), July.
  21. David Cutler & Mark McClellan & Joseph Newhouse, 1998. "The Costs and Benefits of Intensive Treatment for Cardiovascular Disease," NBER Working Papers 6514, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  22. Werner Troesken, 2003. "Lead Water Pipes and Infant Mortality in Turn-of-the-Century Massachusetts," NBER Working Papers 9549, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Costa Dora L., 1993. "Height, Weight, Wartime Stress, and Older Age Mortality: Evidence from the Union Army Records," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 424-449, October.
  24. Michael R Ransom & C. Arden Pope Iii, 1995. "External Health Costs Of A Steel Mill," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 13(2), pages 86-97, 04.
  25. Robert Fogel & Dora Costa, 1997. "A theory of technophysio evolution, with some implications for forecasting population, health care costs, and pension costs," Demography, Springer, vol. 34(1), pages 49-66, February.
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