The Influence of Early-Life Economic Shocks and Genetic Diversity on Long-Term Health and Economic Well-being

Lauren Schmitz , University of Michigan
Valentina Duque, University of Sydney

We show that physical health, psychological well-being, and productivity around retirement age varies with exposure to economic conditions in early life. Using state-year-level variation from the most severe and prolonged economic downturn in American history—the Great Depression—and the subsequent government relief efforts resulting from the New Deal, combined with restricted micro-data and genotype data from the Health and Retirement Study, we find that changes in employment at the year-of-birth induced significant changes in economic well-being, metabolic syndrome, depression, and limitations in performing activities of daily living around age 60. The effects of the economic shock varied substantially across demographic groups, however we find little evidence that these effects varied by genetic predisposition. In the context of an aging population, identifying the degree to which early-life factors influence health and economic well-being is informative for policies that seek to raise long-term productivity and reduce healthcare costs at later stages in life.

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 Presented in Session 161. Life Course Determinants of Aging