Physical Stature Decline and the Health Status of the Elderly Population in England

Alan Fernihough, Trinity College Dublin
Mark E. McGovern, Harvard University

Few research papers in economics or demography have examined the extent, causes or consequences of physical stature decline in ageing populations. Using repeated observations on objectively measured data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), we document that reduction in height is an important phenomenon among older individuals. Failing to account for changes in stature over the life course will dramatically overstate cohort health gains in cross sectional datasets. We demonstrate how deteriorating health and reductions in height occur simultaneously. Declines in muscle mass and bone density are likely to be the mechanism through which these effects are operating. If this physical stature decline is determined by deteriorating health in adulthood, the coefficient on a measured height when used as an input in a typical empirical health production function may be affected by reverse causality. However, our results validate the use of height among the population aged over 50.

  See paper

Presented in Session 174: Aging, Biodemography and Biomarkers