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Childhood health shocks, comparative advantage, and long-term outcomes: evidence from the last Danish polio epidemic

Sep 2018
Working Paper
18-035
By  Miriam Gensowski, Maya Rossin-Slater, Torben Heien Nielsen, Miriam Wust, Nete Munk Nielsen

This paper examines the long-term effects of childhood disability on individuals’ educational and occupational choices, late-career labor market participation, and mortality. We merge medical records on children hospitalized with poliomyelitis during the 1952 Danish epidemic to census and administrative data, and exploit quasi-random variation in paralysis incidence in this population. While childhood disability increases the likelihood of early retirement and disability pension receipt at age 50, paralytic polio survivors obtain higher education and are more likely to work in white-collar and computer-demanding jobs than their non-paralytic counterparts. Our results are consistent with individuals making educational and occupational choices that reflect a shift in the comparative advantage of cognitive versus physical skills. We also find that paralytic polio patients from low socioeconomic status backgrounds are more likely to die prematurely than their non-paralytic counterparts, whereas there is no effect on mortality among polio survivors from more advantaged backgrounds.

Publication Keywords: 
childhood health shocks
occupational sorting
comparative advantage
disadvantage
mediation
long-term effects