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Early childhood health, reproduction of economic inequalities and the persistence of health and mortality differentials

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  • Palloni, Alberto
  • Milesi, Carolina
  • White, Robert G.
  • Turner, Alyn

Abstract

The persistence of adult health and mortality socioeconomic inequalities and the equally stubborn reproduction of social class inequalities are salient features in modern societies that puzzle researchers in seemingly unconnected research fields. Neither can be satisfactorily explained with standard theoretical frameworks. In the domain of health and mortality, it is unclear if and to what an extent adult health and mortality disparities across socioeconomic status (SES) are the product of attributes of the positions themselves, the partial result of health conditions established earlier in life that influence both adult health and economic success, or the outcome of the reverse impact of health status on SES. In the domain of social stratification, the transmission of inequalities across generations has been remarkably resistant to satisfactory explanations. Although the literature on social stratification is by and large silent about the role played by early health status in shaping adult socioeconomic opportunities, new research on human capital formation suggests this is a serious error of omission. In this paper we propose to investigate the connections between these two domains. We use data from male respondents of the 1958 British Cohort to estimate (a) the influence of early health conditions on adult SES and (b) the contribution of early health status to observed adult health differentials. The model incorporates early conditions as determinants of traits that enhance (inhibit) social mobility and also conventional and unconventional factors that affect adult health and socioeconomic status. Our findings reveal that early childhood health plays a small, but non-trivial role as a determinant of adult SES and the adult socioeconomic gradient in health. These findings enrich current explanations of SES inequalities and of adult health and mortality disparities.

Suggested Citation

  • Palloni, Alberto & Milesi, Carolina & White, Robert G. & Turner, Alyn, 2009. "Early childhood health, reproduction of economic inequalities and the persistence of health and mortality differentials," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(9), pages 1574-1582, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:68:y:2009:i:9:p:1574-1582
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