IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

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


  • Costa, Dora L.


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."
(This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

Suggested Citation

  • Costa, Dora L., 1998. "Unequal at Birth: A Long-Term Comparison of Income and Birth Weight," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(04), pages 987-1009, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:58:y:1998:i:04:p:987-1009_02

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: link to article abstract page
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. de Vries, Jan, 1994. "The Industrial Revolution and the Industrious Revolution," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 54(02), pages 249-270, June.
    2. Juster, F Thomas & Stafford, Frank P, 1991. "The Allocation of Time: Empirical Findings, Behavioral Models, and Problems of Measurement," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 29(2), pages 471-522, June.
    3. John Komlos, 1989. "Nutrition and Economic Development in the Eighteenth-Century Habsburg Monarchy: An Anthropometric History," Books by John Komlos, Department of Economics, University of Munich, number 2.
    4. M. S. Feldstein, 1967. "Specification of the Labour Input in the Aggregate Production Function," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 34(4), pages 375-386.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Dora L. Costa, 2015. "Health and the Economy in the United States from 1750 to the Present," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 53(3), pages 503-570, September.
    2. 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.
    3. Sonia Bhalotra & Samantha Rawlings, 2013. "Gradients of the Intergenerational Transmission of Health in Developing Countries," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(2), pages 660-672, May.
    4. Nicholas W. Papageorge & Kevin Thom, 2017. "Genes, Education, and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 17-273, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    5. Mark E. Mcgovern, 2013. "Still Unequal at Birth: Birth Weight,Socio-economic Status and Outcomes at Age 9," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 44(1), pages 53-84.
    6. 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.
    7. Janet Currie, 2011. "Inequality at Birth: Some Causes and Consequences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(3), pages 1-22, May.
    8. 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), pages 286-299.
    9. 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.
    10. repec:bla:ehsrev:v:70:y:2017:i:1:p:3-29 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Janet Currie, 2011. "Ungleichheiten bei der Geburt: Einige Ursachen und Folgen," Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 12(s1), pages 42-65, May.
    12. 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.
    13. Oded Galor & David Mayer-Foulkes, 2004. "Food for Thought: Basic Needs and Persistent Educational Inequality," GE, Growth, Math methods 0410002, EconWPA.
    14. Costa, Dora L., 2004. "Race and Pregnancy Outcomes in the Twentieth Century: A Long-Term Comparison," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 64(04), pages 1056-1086, December.
    15. Duclos, Jean-Yves & Leblanc, Josée & Sahn, David E., 2011. "Comparing population distributions from bin-aggregated sample data: An application to historical height data from France," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(4), pages 419-437.
    16. Eric B. Schneider, 2017. "Children's growth in an adaptive framework: explaining the growth patterns of American slaves and other historical populations," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 70(1), pages 3-29, February.
    17. Xiaobo Peng & Dalton Conley, 2016. "The implication of health insurance for child development and maternal nutrition: evidence from China," The European Journal of Health Economics, Springer;Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gesundheitsökonomie (DGGÖ), vol. 17(5), pages 521-534, June.
    18. Mark E. McGovern, 2016. "Progress and the Lack of Progress in Addressing Infant Health and Infant Health Inequalities in Ireland during the 20th Century," Economics Working Papers 16-05, Queen's Management School, Queen's University Belfast.
    19. Brian Beach & Martin Saavedra, 2015. "Mitigating the Effects of Low Birth Weight: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Adoptees," American Journal of Health Economics, MIT Press, vol. 1(3), pages 275-296, Summer.
    20. Roberts, Evan & Wood, Pamela, 2014. "Birth weight and adult health in historical perspective: Evidence from a New Zealand cohort, 1907–1922," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 154-161.
    21. Schneider, Eric B., 2017. "Fetal health stagnation: Have health conditions in utero improved in the United States and Western and Northern Europe over the past 150 years?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 179(C), pages 18-26.
    22. Bevis, Leah E.M. & Barrett, Christopher B., 2015. "Decomposing Intergenerational Income Elasticity: The Gender-differentiated Contribution of Capital Transmission in Rural Philippines," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 233-252.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:58:y:1998:i:04:p:987-1009_02. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Keith Waters). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.