The impact of early occupational choice on health behaviors

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Abstract

Occupational choice is a significant input into workers’ health investments, operating in a manner that can be either health-promoting or health-depreciating. Recent studies have highlighted the potential importance of initial occupational choice on subsequent outcomes pertaining to morbidity. This study is the first to assess the existence and strength of a causal relationship between initial occupational choice at labor entry and subsequent health behaviors and habits. We utilize the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to analyze the effect of first occupation, as identified by industry category and blue collar work, on subsequent health outcomes relating to obesity, alcohol misuse, smoking, and physical activity in 2005. Our findings suggest blue collar work early in life is associated with increased probabilities of obesity, at-risk alcohol consumption, and smoking, and increased physical activity later in life, although effects may be masked by unobserved heterogeneity. The weight of the evidence bearing from various methodologies, which account for non-random unobserved selection, indicates that at least part of this effect is consistent with a causal interpretation. These estimates also underscore the potential durable impact of early labor market experiences on later health.