Healthy, wealthy and wise? Later life physical, economic, and cognitive effects of early life circumstances in the U.S.

Joseph Ferrie, Northwestern University
Karen Rolf, University of Nebraska
Werner Troesken, George Mason University

We follow more than 500,000 individuals from their childhood households to their death in order to assess the impact of their early life circumstances on their physical appearance (height and weight), cognitive skills, educational attainment, income, longevity, and cause of death. The data were constructed by linking four sources: (1) Social Security benefit records; (2) state death certificates; (3) U.S. Army enlistment records containing biometric information and Army General Certification Test (AGCT) results; and (4) the manuscript schedules of 1900 through 1930 U.S. Census of Population. We find that circumstances such as early-life household structure (presence of both parents, birth order), neighborhood characteristics, and season of birth influenced outcomes such as test scores, education, occupation, income, and health, and that these effects are present up to 90 years after they are experienced.

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Presented in Session 73: New methods and new insights in mortality research