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American Economic Review: Vol. 103 No. 5 (August 2013)


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Limited Life Expectancy, Human Capital and Health Investments

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Oster, Emily, Ira Shoulson, and E. Ray Dorsey. 2013. "Limited Life Expectancy, Human Capital and Health Investments." American Economic Review, 103(5): 1977-2002.

DOI: 10.1257/aer.103.5.1977


Human capital theory predicts that life expectancy will impact human capital attainment. We estimate this relationship using variation in life expectancy driven by Huntington disease, an inherited neurological disorder. We compare investments for individuals who have ex-ante identical risks of HD but differ in disease realization. Individuals with the HD mutation complete less education and job training. The elasticity of demand for college attendance with respect to life expectancy is around 1.0. We relate this to cross-country and over-time differences in education. We use smoking and cancer screening data to test the corollary that health capital responds to life expectancy.

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Oster, Emily (U Chicago)
Shoulson, Ira (Georgetown U)
Dorsey, E. Ray (Johns Hopkins U)

JEL Classifications

I11: Analysis of Health Care Markets
I12: Health Production
I20: Education and Research Institutions: General
I31: General Welfare
J24: Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

American Economic Review

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