Gerard Van den Berg, Bristol University

Economic conditions at birth and later-life DNA methylation age acceleration


Economic conditions and events early in life are known to impact a range of health and cognitive outcomes later in life. Despite the overwhelming evidence on this, it is to a large extent an open question what the underlying pathway is. Studies in economics speculate about epigenetic biological mechanisms that effectively switch genes on or off in response to the environment early in life. We advance on this by identifying causal effects of early-life economic conditions on DNA methylation age acceleration. The latter is an epigenetic marker of biological aging and a measure of the cumulative impact of the early-life environment on the epigenome, based on machine learning techniques. We use instrumental variables to proxy economic conditions early in life. We merge five UK data sets, including the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). The results show strong and highly significant effects.

Gerard Van den Berg is a Professor at Bristol University, and a Fellow of the Econometric Society. He is also affiliated with the Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy. In addition he is Program Director at IZA in Bonn. His research covers econometrics, labor economics and health economics, particularly duration analysis, search theory, treatment evaluation and long run effects of early life conditions.

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