Spousal health effects: the role of selection

Publication type

Research Paper

Series Number



NBER Working Paper Series


Publication date

September 15, 2013


In this paper, we investigate the issue of partner selection in the health of individuals who are at least
fifty years old in England and the United States. We find a strong and positive association in family
background variables including education of partners and their parents. Adult health behaviors such
as smoking, drinking, and exercise are more positively associated in England compared to the United
States. Childhood health indicators are also positively associated across partners.
We also investigated pre and post partnership smoking behavior of couples. There exists strong positive
assortative mating in smoking in that smokers are much more likely to partner with smokers and non-smokers
with non-smokers. This relationship is far stronger in England compared to the United States. In the
United States, we find evidence of asymmetric partner influence in smoking in that men’s pre marriage
smoking behavior influences his female partner’s post marriage smoking behavior but there does not
appear to be a parallel influence of women’s pre-marriage smoking on their male partner’s post-marital
smoking. These relationships are much more parallel across genders in England.




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