Gradients of the Intergenerational Transmission of Health in Developing Countries
This paper investigates the sensitivity of the intergenerational transmission of health to changes in education, income and public services. It uses individual survey data on 2.24 million children born to 600000 mothers during 1970-2000 in 38 developing countries. These data are merged with macroeconomic data by country and birth cohort to create an unprecedentedly large sample of comparable data that exhibits massive variation in maternal and child health as well as in aggregate economic conditions. Child health is indicated by infant survival. Our measure of maternal health is (relative) height, although we also investigate indicators of the health environment in the mother’s childhood as proxies for her health. This is more general and carries the advantage that these indicators are free of endowment effects. We find a substantial positive intergenerational correlation of health that is stronger at both tails of the distribution of mother’s height, and larger for negative deviations from mean height. We show that improving maternal education, raising income and improving the supply or effectiveness of public services in the child’s birth year limits the degree to which child health is tied to family circumstance. These results are robust to mother fixed effects that control for genetic and other endowments common across siblings. The interaction (gradient) effects are most marked for shorter women, consistent with their being constrained in the investments they are able to make in child health. We also find that income and the infectious disease environment in the mother’s birth year exhibit significant intergenerational spillover. There is some previous evidence that adult stature on the one hand and early childhood conditions on the other predict own life expectancy. Our finding that both mother’s height and conditions in her childhood predicts survival or life expectancy for offspring is an important extension of the evidence.
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