Intergenerational Health Mobility: Evidence from Danish Registers

Monday, June 24, 2019: 3:45 PM
Truman - Mezzanine Level (Marriott Wardman Park Hotel)

Presenter: Carsten Berthram Andersen

Discussant: Karoline Mortensen

To what extent status depends on family background has been of great interest in the social sciences
and the general public for centuries. The transmission of income, earnings and educational attainment is
often studied, while equality of opportunity with respect to health outcomes has received far less attention.
This paper is the first to investigate intergenerational health mobility using high-quality administrative
data from Denmark. The attractiveness of this approach lies in objective health measures and large sample
sizes allowing twin analyses.
I operationalise health mobility by a variety of statistics: rank-rank slopes, intergenerational correlations
and sibling and identical twin correlations. Mobility in health is found to be relatively high for men,
both when compared to similar US-based studies, and when contrasted with outcomes such as educational
attainment and income. For Danish women, health-related dependence on family background is on par
with similar statistics for income and earnings for other Scandinavian countries. Mobility is thus, perhaps
somewhat nonintuitively, higher in health than in income. Contrasting sibling and identical twin correlations
with parent-child associations conrm earlier ndings in the literature on equality of opportunity,
namely that sibling correlations capture far more variation than traditional intergenerational correlations.
14-38 percent of the variation in individual health outcomes can be ascribed to family background and
genes, factors which the individual cannot be held accountable for. Only a negligible share of this variation
can be explained by parental health, which suggests that other family-specific characteristics may play an
important role for health mobility.

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