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Genetic mechanisms in the intergenerational transmission of health

Owen Thompson

Journal of Health Economics, 2014, vol. 35, issue C, 132-146

Abstract: This paper uses a sample of adoptees to study the genetic mechanisms underlying intergenerational associations in chronic health conditions. I begin by estimating baseline intergenerational models with a sample of approximately 125,000 parent–child pairs, and find that children with a parent who has a specific chronic health condition are at least 100% more likely to have the same condition themselves. To assess the role of genetic mechanisms in generating these strong correlations, I estimate models using a sample of approximately 2400 adoptees, and find that genetic transmission accounts for only 20–30% of the baseline associations. As falsification tests, I repeat this exercise using health measures with externally established levels of genetic determination (height and chicken pox), and the results suggest that comparisons of biological and adopted children are a valid method of isolating genetic effects in this sample. Finally, to corroborate these adoptee-based estimates, I examine health correlations among monozygotic twins, which provide an upper bound estimate of genetic influences, and find a similarly modest role for genetic transmission. I conclude that intergenerational health transmission is an important hindrance to overall socioeconomic mobility, but that the majority of transmission occurs through environmental factors or gene–environment interactions, leaving scope for interventions to effectively mitigate health persistence.

Keywords: Health transmission; Genetics; Adoptees (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: I12 I14 J6 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2014
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Journal of Health Economics is currently edited by J. P. Newhouse, A. J. Culyer, R. Frank, K. Claxton and T. McGuire

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