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What doesn’t kill you makes you poorer: Adult wages and early-life mortality in India

Research1 min read

Authors: Nicholas Lawson, Dean Spears

Published in: Economics & Human Biology

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A growing literature indicates that effects of early-life health on adult economic outcomes could be substantial in developing countries, but the magnitude of this effect is debated. We document a robust gradient between the early-life mortality environment to which men in India were locally exposed in their district and year of birth and the wages that they earn as adults. A 1 percentage point reduction in infant mortality (or 10 point reduction in IMR) in an infant’s district and year of birth is associated with an approximately 2 percent increase in his subsequent adult wages.

Consistent with theories and evidence in the literature, we find that the level of schooling chosen for a child does not mediate this association. Because of its consequences for subsequent wages, early-life health could also have considerable fiscal externalities; if so, public health investments could come at very low net present cost.


r.i.c.e. is a nonprofit research organization, dedicated to understanding the lives of poor people, especially young children, in India, and to promoting their well-being.

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