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Economic gradients in early child neurodevelopment: A multi-country study


  • Wehby, George L.
  • McCarthy, Ann Marie


Little is known about the importance of household wealth for child neurodevelopment very early in life including during infancy. Previous studies have focused on specific developmental domains instead of more holistic multi-domain measures of neurodevelopment and on economic effects for the “average” child instead of evaluating the heterogeneity in economic gradients by different levels of developmental ability. Furthermore, not much is known about whether economic gradients in early child neurodevelopment are country-specific or generalizable between populations. We evaluate wealth gradients in child neurodevelopment, an important predictor of future health and human capital, between ages 3 and 24 months in four South American countries. We also assess the heterogeneity in these gradients at different locations of the neurodevelopment distribution using quantile regression. Employing a unique dataset of 2032 children with neurodevelopment measures obtained by physicians in 2005–2006, we find a large positive wealth gradient in neurodevelopment in Brazil. The wealth gradient is larger for children at higher neurodevelopment rankings, suggesting that wealth is associated with child development inequalities in the form of a wider gap between low and high achievers on neurodevelopment in Brazil. This result highlights the need to target poverty in Brazil as a key factor in health and human capital disparities earlier in life rather than later as early developmental deficits will be carried forward and possibly multiplied later in life. More importantly, small or insignificant wealth gradients are generally found in the other countries. These results suggest that wealth gradients in child neurodevelopment are country-specific and vary with population demographic, health, and socioeconomic characteristics. Therefore, findings from previous studies based on specific populations may not be generalizable to other countries. Furthermore, wealth gradients in child neurodevelopment appear to be dynamic rather than fixed and sensitive to population characteristics that modify their intensity.

Suggested Citation

  • Wehby, George L. & McCarthy, Ann Marie, 2013. "Economic gradients in early child neurodevelopment: A multi-country study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 78(C), pages 86-95.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:78:y:2013:i:c:p:86-95
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.11.038

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Edward Telles & Nelson Lim, 1998. "Does it matter who answers the race question? Racial classification and income inequality in Brazil," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 35(4), pages 465-474, November.
    2. Flavio Cunha & James J. Heckman & Susanne M. Schennach, 2010. "Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 78(3), pages 883-931, May.
    3. Koenker, Roger W & Bassett, Gilbert, Jr, 1978. "Regression Quantiles," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(1), pages 33-50, January.
    4. Lisa N Oliver & James R Dunn & Dafna E Kohen & Clyde Hertzman, 2007. "Do neighbourhoods influence the readiness to learn of kindergarten children in Vancouver? A multilevel analysis of neighbourhood effects," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 39(4), pages 848-868, April.
    5. George L. Wehby & Kaitlin Prater & Ann Marie McCarthy & Eduardo E. Castilla & Jeffrey C. Murray, 2011. "The Impact of Maternal Smoking during Pregnancy on Early Child Neurodevelopment," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 5(2), pages 207-254.
    6. James Heckman & Flavio Cunha, 2007. "The Technology of Skill Formation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 31-47, May.
    7. Christina Paxson & Norbert Schady, 2007. "Cognitive Development among Young Children in Ecuador: The Roles of Wealth, Health, and Parenting," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(1).
    8. Janet Currie, 2009. "Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Socioeconomic Status, Poor Health in Childhood, and Human Capital Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(1), pages 87-122, March.
    9. Koenker,Roger, 2005. "Quantile Regression," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521845731, April.
    10. John Ermisch, 2008. "Origins of Social Immobility and Inequality: Parenting and Early Child Development," National Institute Economic Review, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, vol. 205(1), pages 62-71, July.
    11. Deon Filmer & Lant Pritchett, 2001. "Estimating Wealth Effects Without Expenditure Data—Or Tears: An Application To Educational Enrollments In States Of India," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 38(1), pages 115-132, February.
    12. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2008.155564_9 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Lisa N Oliver & James R Dunn & Dafna E Kohen & Clyde Hertzman, 2007. "Do Neighbourhoods Influence the Readiness to Learn of Kindergarten Children in Vancouver? A Multilevel Analysis of Neighbourhood Effects," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 39(4), pages 848-868, April.
    14. Ghuman, Sharon & Behrman, Jere R & Borja, Judith B & Gultiano, Socorro & King, Elizabeth M, 2005. "Family Background, Service Providers, and Early Childhood Development in the Philippines: Proxies and Interactions," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(1), pages 129-164, October.
    15. Wehby George L. & McCarthy Ann Marie & Castilla Eduardo & Murray Jeffrey C., 2011. "The Impact of Household Investments on Early Child Neurodevelopment and on Racial and Socioeconomic Developmental Gaps: Evidence from South America," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 14(2), pages 1-60, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. George Wehby & Juan Gili & Mariela Pawluk & Eduardo Castilla & Jorge López-Camelo, 2015. "Disparities in birth weight and gestational age by ethnic ancestry in South American countries," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 60(3), pages 343-351, March.


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