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Physical Stature Decline and the Health Status of the Elderly Population in England

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  • Alan Fernihough
  • McGovern, Mark E.

Abstract

Few research papers in economics have examined the extent, causes or consequences of physical stature decline in aging populations. Using repeated observations on objectively measured data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), we document that reduction in height is an important phenomenon among respondents aged 50 and over. On average, physical stature decline occurs at an annual rate of between 0.08% and 0.10% for males, and 0.12% and 0.14% for females?which approximately translates into a 2cm to 4cm reduction in height over the life course. Since height is commonly used as a measure of long-run health, our results demonstrate that failing to take age-related height loss into account substantially overstates the health advantage of younger birth cohorts relative to their older counterparts. We also show that there is an absence of consistent predictors of physical stature decline at the individual level. However, we demonstrate how deteriorating health and reductions in height occur simultaneously. We document that declines in muscle mass and bone density are likely to be the mechanism through which these effects are operating. If this physical stature decline is determined by deteriorating health in adulthood, the coefficient on measured height when used as an input in a typical empirical health production function will be affected by reverse causality. While our analysis details the inherent difficulties associated with measuring height in older populations, we do not find that significant bias arises in typical empirical health production functions from the use of height which has not been adjusted for physical stature decline. Therefore, our results validate the use of height among the population aged over 50.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan Fernihough & McGovern, Mark E., 2015. "Physical Stature Decline and the Health Status of the Elderly Population in England," Working Paper 143351, Harvard University OpenScholar.
  • Handle: RePEc:qsh:wpaper:143351
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    File URL: http://scholar.harvard.edu/mcgovern/node/143351
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    Citations

    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Evidence on Stature Loss
      by Mark McGovern in Economics and Psychology Research on 2013-06-16 20:11:00
    2. Physical Stature Decline and the Health Status of the Elderly Population in England
      by Mark McGovern in Economics, Psychology and Policy on 2014-01-30 01:59:00

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    Cited by:

    1. Kim, Younoh, 2015. "The dynamics of health and its determinants among the elderly in developing countries," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 1-12.
    2. Chae, Minhee & Hatton, Tim & Meng, Xin, 2021. "Explaining Trends in Adult Height in China: 1950 to 1990," IZA Discussion Papers 14414, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Vinci, Linda & Floris, Joël & Koepke, Nikola & Matthes, Katarina L. & Bochud, Murielle & Bender, Nicole & Rohrmann, Sabine & Faeh, David & Staub, Kaspar, 2019. "Have Swiss adult males and females stopped growing taller? Evidence from the population-based nutrition survey menuCH, 2014/2015," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 201-210.
    4. Akachi, Yoko & Canning, David, 2015. "Inferring the economic standard of living and health from cohort height: Evidence from modern populations in developing countries," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 114-128.
    5. Cavaglia, Chiara & Etheridge, Ben, 2020. "Job polarization and the declining quality of knowledge workers: Evidence from the UK and Germany," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(C).
    6. Jinkook Lee & McGovern, Mark E. & David E. Bloom & P. Arokiasamy & Arun Risbud & Jennifer O?Brien & Varsha Kale & Peifeng Hu, 2015. "Education, Gender, and State-Level Gradients in the Health of Older Indians: Evidence from Biomarker Data," Working Paper 228841, Harvard University OpenScholar.
    7. Santiago Caballero, Carlos & Sanchez Alonso, Blanca, 2021. "The loss of human capital after the Spanish civil war," IFCS - Working Papers in Economic History.WH 31991, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Instituto Figuerola.
    8. Santiago-Caballero, Carlos, 2021. "The gender gap in the biological living standard in Spain. A study based on the heights of an elite migration to Mexico, 1840-1930," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 41(C).
    9. Blum, Matthias & Colvin, Christopher L. & McLaughlin, Eoin, 2017. "Scarring and selection in the Great Irish Famine," QUCEH Working Paper Series 2017-08, Queen's University Belfast, Queen's University Centre for Economic History.
    10. Mosca, Irene & Wright, Robert E., 2016. "Height and cognition at older ages: Irish evidence," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 149(C), pages 98-101.
    11. 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.
    12. Akachi, Yoko & Canning, David, 2015. "Inferring the economic standard of living and health from cohort height: Evidence from modern populations in developing countries," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 114-128.
    13. Matthias Blum & Claudia Rei, 2018. "Escaping Europe: health and human capital of Holocaust refugees1," European Review of Economic History, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(1), pages 1-27.
    14. Jain, Urvashi & Ma, Mingming, 2020. "Height shrinkage, health and mortality among older adults: Evidence from Indonesia," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 37(C).
    15. Marein, Brian, 2020. "Economic development in Puerto Rico after US annexation: Anthropometric evidence," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 38(C).

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    JEL classification:

    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts

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