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Unequal at Birth: A Long-Term Comparison of Income and Birth Weight

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  • Dora L. Costa

Abstract

I demonstrate that although socioeconomic differences in birth weight have always been" fairly small in the United States, they have narrowed since the beginning of this century. I argue" that maternal height, and therefore the mother's nutritional status during her growing years accounted for most of the socioeconomic differences in birth weight in the past implying that in the past health inequality was transmitted across generations. I also show that" children born at the beginning of this century compared favorably to modern populations in terms" of birth weights, but suffered higher fetal and neonatal death rates because obstetrical and" medical knowledge was poorer. In addition, by day ten children in the past were at a" disadvantage relative to children today because best practice resulted in insufficient feeding. The" poor average health of past populations therefore originated in part in the first days of life."

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6313.

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Date of creation: Jun 1999
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Publication status: published as Journal of Economic History, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 987-1009, December 1998.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6313

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Cited by:
  1. Eric B. Schneider, 2014. "Children's Growth in an Adaptive Framework: Explaining the Growth Patterns of American Slaves and Other Historical Populations," Economics Series Working Papers Number 130, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  2. Bhalotra, Sonia & Rawlings, Samantha B., 2011. "Intergenerational persistence in health in developing countries: The penalty of gender inequality?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(3-4), pages 286-299, April.
  3. Dora L. Costa, 2003. "Race and Pregnancy Outcomes in the Twentieth Century: A Long-Term Comparison," NBER Working Papers 9593, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. William J. Collins & Melissa A. Thomasson, 2002. "Exploring the Racial Gap in Infant Mortality Rates, 1920-1970," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0201, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
  5. Henderson, R. Max, 2005. "The bigger the healthier: Are the limits of BMI risk changing over time?," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 3(3), pages 339-366, December.
  6. Janet Currie, 2011. "Inequality at Birth: Some Causes and Consequences," NBER Working Papers 16798, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Mark E. McGovern, 2012. "Still unequal at birth: birth weight, socioeconomic status and outcomes at age 9," Working Papers 201222, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  8. Dora Costa, 2013. "Health and the Economy in the United States, from 1750 to the Present," NBER Working Papers 19685, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Janet Currie, 2011. "Ungleichheiten bei der Geburt: Einige Ursachen und Folgen," Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 12(s1), pages 42-65, 05.
  10. Almond, Douglas & Currie, Janet & Herrmann, Mariesa, 2012. "From infant to mother: Early disease environment and future maternal health," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 475-483.
  11. Oded Galor & David Mayer-Foulkes, 2004. "Food for Thought: Basic Needs and Persistent Educational Inequality," GE, Growth, Math methods 0410002, EconWPA.
  12. Steckel, Richard H., 2009. "Heights and human welfare: Recent developments and new directions," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 1-23, January.

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