In the 1970s, American educational attainment and test scores declined sharply, and steady growth in real wages halted. In the 1980s, the incidence of low birthweight births suddenly reversed trend and began increasing. In 1999, the mortality rate of white Americans at midlife also reversed trend and began to rise. I present evidence that all of these patterns are linked to a decline in health and human capital across American-born cohorts, that began suddenly with those born after 1947. This cross-cohort decline is evident from the estimation of standard age-period-cohort models of: earnings, maternal health as measured by the birth weight of infants, and the mortality rates of men and women. I also implement a novel methodology in which the decline is evident in each outcome as a sharp discontinuity and is confirmed by structural break testing. There is no decline for the foreign-born population, but it is otherwise remarkably widespread across race and geography in the United States. The decline in educational attainment for these cohorts appears too small to directly explain all of the other declines. I present suggestive evidence that the root cause may have been a worsening respiratory health environment when these cohorts were infants.
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2020.