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The Long Reach of Childhood Health and Circumstance: Evidence from the Whitehall II Study


  • Corresponding author: Anne Case, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1013, USA. Email:

  • This article has been written for Professor Angus Deaton’s festschrift, celebrating his presidency of the American Economic Association. We thank Dr. Aida Sanchez and the Whitehall II team for help accessing the Whitehall II data and Kimberly Bryan for expert research assistance. We thank all participating men and women in the Whitehall II Study; all participating Civil Service departments and their welfare, personnel and establishment officers; the Occupational Health and Safety Agency; and the Council of Civil Service Unions. The Whitehall II Study team comprises research scientists, statisticians, study co-ordinators, nurses, data managers, administrative assistants and data entry staff, who make the study possible. Continuing data collection on this study is funded by the Medical Research Council, the National Institute on Aging (AG13196), National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (HL36310) and the British Heart Foundation. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the National Institutes of Health under the Demography of Aging Centre grant P30 AG024361, and we thank referees and Scott Kostyshak for many useful suggestions.


We use data from the Whitehall II Study to examine the joint evolution of health status and economic status over the life course. We study the links between health and socioeconomic status in childhood and health and employment status at older ages. We find early life socioeconomic status is significantly associated with health over the life course, even though selection into Whitehall mutes the effects of childhood. In addition, we find that current position in the Civil Service is not associated with future self-assessed health, but current self-assessed health is significantly associated with promotion in the Civil Service.