case_paxson_AEAPP - Forthcoming American Economic Review,...

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Forthcoming American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings , May 2008 Height, Health and Cognitive Function at Older Ages By Anne Case and Christina Paxson Research across a number of disciplines has highlighted the role of early life health and circumstance in determining health and economic outcomes at older ages. Nutrition in utero and in infancy may set the stage for the chronic disease burden that an individual will face in middle age (David J. Barker, 1998; Barker et al. 1989; Johann Eriksson et al. 2001). Childhood health may also have significant effects on economic outcomes in adulthood. Collectively, a set of childhood health measures can account for a large fraction of the explained variance in employment and social status observed among a British cohort followed from birth into adulthood (Anne Case, Angela Fertig and Christina Paxson 2005). Recent research has paid particular attention to height as a marker of a child’s early environment. A baby’s length in infancy and height in childhood are strongly predictive of cognitive ability (Susan A. Rose 1994; Marcus Richards et al. 2002; Case and Paxson 2006), with better nutrition and health leading both to taller children and to greater cognitive function (Richard Lynn 1989). Analysis of data from British birth cohorts finds that a one-standard deviation increase in height is associated on average with a one-tenth of a standard deviation increase in scores on standardized language, math and drawing tests, measured at a variety of ages in childhood, with or without controls for parents’ heights, education and social status (Case and Paxson 2006). The association between height at age 3 and height in adulthood is strong (the correlation coefficient is greater than 0.7 for both men and women), so that adult height provides a marker for the nutrition and health environment that an adult experienced in early life. Data from the US and Britain suggests that some of the advantages bestowed by more favorable health and environmental
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circumstance, as measured by height, follow children into adulthood: not only are taller adults more likely to work in white collar occupations, but every inch of height is associated with a 2 to 2.5 percent increase in earnings for both men and women on average. The height premium observed in earnings among taller adults in the British birth cohorts can be explained by greater cognitive function, measured using scores on tests taken at young ages (Case and Paxson 2006). How lasting are these effects? In this paper, we argue that the advantages offered by a healthier early life environment – as measured by height – follow adults into old age. We use several waves of data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to document the extent to which height is associated with more favorable outcomes for individuals above the age of 50. We find that taller men and women have greater cognitive function, measured on a wide variety of dimensions. They report significantly fewer difficulties with activities of daily living, on average, and significantly
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case_paxson_AEAPP - Forthcoming American Economic Review,...

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