Childhood Health and Labor Market Inequality over the Life Course

Arizona State University, Tempe, USA.
Journal of Health and Social Behavior (Impact Factor: 2.72). 09/2011; 52(3):298-313. DOI: 10.1177/0022146511410431
Source: PubMed


The authors use data from the Health and Retirement Study's Earnings Benefit File, which links Health and Retirement Study to Social Security Administration records, to estimate the impact of childhood health on earnings curves between the ages of 25 and 50 years. They also investigate the extent to which diminished educational attainment, earlier onset of chronic health conditions, and labor force participation mediate this relationship. Those who experience poor childhood health have substantially diminished labor market earnings over the work career. For men, earnings differentials grow larger over the early to middle career and then slow down and begin to converge as they near 50 years of age. For women, earnings differentials emerge later in the career and show no evidence of convergence. Part of the child health earnings differential is accounted for by selection into diminished educational attainment, the earlier onset of chronic disease in adulthood, and, particularly for men, labor force participation.

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    ABSTRACT: The growing recognition that educational attainment is one of the strongest preventive factors for adult health and longevity has fueled an interest in educational attainment as a population health strategy. However, less attention has been given to identifying social, economic, and behavioral resources that may moderate the health and longevity benefits of education. We draw on theories of resource substitution and multiplication to examine the extent to which the education–mortality association is contingent on other resources (marriage, employment, income, healthy lifestyles). We use data on adults aged 30–84 in the 1997–2006 National Health Interview Survey Linked Mortality File and estimate discrete-time event history models stratified by gender (N = 146,558; deaths = 10,399). We find that the mortality benefits of education are generally largest for adults—especially women—who have other resources such as employment and marriage, supporting the theory of resource multiplication. Nonetheless, our results also imply that other resources can potentially attenuate the mortality disadvantages (advantages) associated with low (high) levels of education. The findings suggest that efforts to improve population health and longevity by raising education levels should be augmented with strategies that assure widespread access to social, economic, and behavioral resources.
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