13-case paxson 2008 - American Economic Review Papers...

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463 American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings 2008, 98:2, 463–467 http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi = 10.1257/aer.98.2.463 Research across a number of disciplines has highlighted the role of early life health and cir- cumstance 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 eco- nomic 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 adult- hood (Case, Angela Fertig, and Paxson 2005). Recent research has paid particular attention to height as a marker of a child’s early environ- ment. 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 chil- dren 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 1 / 10 -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, educa- tion, 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 HeigHt, HealtH and economic development Height, Health, and Cognitive Function at Older Ages By Anne Case and Christina Paxson* for the nutrition and health environment that an adult experienced in early life. Data from the United States and Britain suggest that some of the advantages bestowed by more favorable health and environmental circumstance, as measured by height, follow children into adult- hood: 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 favor- able 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
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