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Health Shocks and the Evolution of Earnings over the Life- Cycle

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Elena Capatina, Michael Keane and Shiko Maruyama

Abstract: We study the contribution of health shocks to earnings inequality and uncertainty in labor market outcomes. We calibrate a life-cycle model of labor supply and savings that incorporates health and health shocks. Our model features endogenous wage formation via human capital accumulation, employer sponsored health insurance, and means- tested social insurance. We find a substantial part of the impact of health shocks on earnings arises via reduced human capital accumulation. Health shocks account for 15% of lifetime earnings inequality for U.S. males, with two-thirds of this due to behavioral responses. In particular, it is optimal for low-skill workers – who often lack employer sponsored insurance – to curtail labor supply to maintain eligibility for means-tested transfers that protect them from high health care costs. This causes low-skill workers to invest less in human capital. Provision of public health insurance can alleviate this problem and enhance labor supply and human capital accumulation.

Keywords: Health, Health Shocks, Human Capital, Income Risk, Precautionary Saving, Earnings Inequality, Health Insurance, Welfare


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