Early Life conditions and later life inequality in health

Prenatal exposure to adverse conditions is known to affect health throughout the life span. It has also been shown that health is unevenly distributed at advanced ages. This chapter investigates whether health inequalities at old age may be partially caused by prenatal circumstances. We use a sample of people aged 71–91 from eight European countries and assess how shocks in GDP that occurred while the respondents were still in utero affect four important dimensions of later-life health: cognition, depression, functional limitations, and grip strength. We find that early-life macro-economic circumstances do not affect health at advanced ages, nor do they affect inequalities in health. In additional analyses, we show that the least healthy people may not enter our sample as the probability of dying before reaching age 71 is high, and mortality rates among those who were prenatally exposed to adverse GDP shocks are higher. We conclude that selective mortality may mask effects of early-life circumstances on health and health inequality at old age.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.


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