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Unraveling the SES-Health Connection

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  • James P. Smith

    (RAND Corporation)

Abstract

While a debate rages on about competing reasons why SES may affect health, there is little recognition that the so-called reverse causation from health to economic status may be pretty fundamental as well. Even if the direction of causation is that SES mainly affects health, what dimensions of SES actually matter—the financial aspects such as income or wealth or non-financial dimensions like education? Finally, is there a life course component to the health gradient so that we may be mislead in trying to answer these questions by only looking at people of a certain age—say those past 50. This paper, which is divided into four sections, provides my answers to these questions. The first section examines the issue of reverse causation or whether a new health event has a significant impact on four dimensions of SES—out-of-pocket medical expenses, labor supply, household income, and household wealth. The next section switches the perspective by asking whether the so-called direct causation from SES to health really matters all that much. If the answer is yes and it will be, a sub-theme in this section concerns which dimensions of SES—income, wealth, or education—matter for individual health. Since the answer to that question turns out to be education, Section 3 deals with the very much more difficult issue of why education matters so much. The evidence in these first three sections relies on data for people above age 50. In the final section of the paper, I test the robustness of my answers to these basic questions of the meaning of the SES-health gradient using data that span the entire life-course.

Suggested Citation

  • James P. Smith, 2005. "Unraveling the SES-Health Connection," Labor and Demography 0505018, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpla:0505018
    Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 25. Published in Aging, Health, and Public Policy: Demographic and Economic Perspectives, a supplement to Population and Development Review, Volume 30, New York: Population Council, 2005.
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. James Smith, 2005. "Consequences and Predictors of New Health Events," NBER Chapters, in: Analyses in the Economics of Aging, pages 213-240, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Anne Case & Angus S. Deaton, 2005. "Broken Down by Work and Sex: How Our Health Declines," NBER Chapters, in: Analyses in the Economics of Aging, pages 185-212, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. repec:pri:cheawb:case_paxson_economic_status_paper is not listed on IDEAS
    4. James P. Smith, 2004. "Why is Wealth Inequality Rising?," Macroeconomics 0402012, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. 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.
    6. James Smith & Raynard Kington, 1997. "Demographic and economic correlates of health in old age," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 34(1), pages 159-170, February.
    7. Peter Adams & Michael D. Hurd & Daniel L. McFadden & Angela Merrill & Tiago Ribeiro, 2004. "Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise? Tests for Direct Causal Paths between Health and Socioeconomic Status," NBER Chapters, in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 415-526, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Case, Anne & Fertig, Angela & Paxson, Christina, 2005. "The lasting impact of childhood health and circumstance," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 365-389, March.
    9. repec:pri:cheawb:case_paxson_impact_childhood_health.pdf is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Dana P. Goldman & James P. Smith, 2004. "Can Patient Self-Management Help Explain the SES Health Gradient?," HEW 0403004, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    11. repec:pri:cheawb:case_paxson_economic_status_paper.pdf is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Anne Case & Darren Lubotsky & Christina Paxson, 2002. "Economic Status and Health in Childhood: The Origins of the Gradient," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1308-1334, December.
    13. repec:pri:cheawb:case_paxson_impact_childhood_health is not listed on IDEAS
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