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University of Bath

The social and economic consequences of health: causal analysis using intergenerational UK data

An extensive analysis of the causal effects of health on socio-economic outcomes over the life-course, assessing the economic return to maintaining good health.

The aim of this project was to improve our understanding of health as an asset in the production of social and economic outcomes. Greater knowledge in this area will strengthen the arguments for public policy that promotes good population health as a means to improving socio-economic life outcomes amongst the population. At a time when there are numerous crises in population health – poor nutrition linked to increasing poverty, obesity, poor air-quality – this ambitious project helps to better understand and quantify the causal impact of health on later social and economic outcomes throughout the life course.

To achieve this, the project uses data from UK Biobank and two cohort studies – the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and Early Prediction of Adolescent Depression – both of which have repeated measures of multiple mental and physical health measures and economic and social outcomes of parents and children. By applying causal inference methods it examines the causal links between health and social and economic outcome and assesses whether the impact of health changes across the life course, identifying periods of the life course where policy changes are likely to have the greatest effects. Given the importance of intergenerational transmission of health and other socio-economic factors, the project considers whether parental health causally affects the social and economic outcomes of children. Synthesising the evidence generated with findings from other studies funded in this Health Foundation programme and with economic modelling, the project demonstrates the collective economic returns to maximising population health. This in turn will motivate cross-government action to maximise health.

Research team

  • Principal Investigator: Dr Laura Howe, Reader in Epidemiology and Medical Statistics, University of Bristol. @laurahowe_epi

Co investigators:

  • Dr Alisha Davies, Head of Research and Development Public Health Wales. @AlishaDavies1
  • Dr Neil Davies, Research Fellow, MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol. @nm_davies
  • Dr Hayley Jones, Senior Research Fellow in Medical Statistics, University of Bristol. @DrHayleyJones
  • Dr Frances Rice, Reader, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University.
  • Dr Matt Dickson, Reader in Public Policy, University of Bath Institute for Policy Research. @mattdickson__


  • Hughes, A., Harrison, S., Dixon, P., Dickson, M., Davies, A., Rice, F., Davies, N., Howe, L. 2020. The wider consequences of obesity: estimated social and economic costs from Mendelian Randomisation, European Journal of Public Health, vol. 30, Issue Supplement 5, ckaa165.1028
  • Blog: Using genetics to understand the relationship between young people’s health and educational outcomes, Amanda Hughes, Dr Kaitlin Wade, Dr Matt Dickson, Professor Frances Rice, Alisha Davies, Dr Neil Davies, Professor Laura Howe. January 2021.
  • Hughes, A., Wade, K., Rice, F., Dickson, M., Davies, A., Davies, N., and Howe, L. 2020. Common health conditions in childhood and adolescence and educational attainment, and the role of school absences. Nature Partner Journal: Science of Learning, forthcoming.
  • Harrison, S., Davies, A., Dickson, M., Tyrrell, J., Green, M., Katikireddi, S.V., Campbell, D., Munafo, M., Dixon, P., Jones, H., Rice, F., Davies, N., Howe, L. 2020. The Causal Effects of Health Conditions and Risk Factors on Social and Socioeconomic Outcomes: Mendelian Randomization in UK Biobank. International Journal of Epidemiology, forthcoming.