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Beyond birth weight: the origins of human capital

Author

Listed:
  • Gabriella Conti

    (Institute for Fiscal Studies and University College London)

  • Mark Hanson

    (Institute for Fiscal Studies)

  • Hazel M. Inskip

    (Institute for Fiscal Studies)

  • Sarah Crozier

    (Institute for Fiscal Studies)

  • Cyrus Cooper

    (Institute for Fiscal Studies)

  • Keith Godfrey

    (Institute for Fiscal Studies)

Abstract

Birth weight is the most widely used indicator of neonatal health. It has been consistently shown to relate to a variety of outcomes throughout the life cycle. Lower birth weight babies have worse health and cognition from childhood, lower educational attainment, wages, and longevity. But what's in birth weight? What are the aspects of the prenatal environment that birth weight actually reflect? In this paper we address this fundamental, yet currently unanswered, question, using unique data with fetal ultrasound measurements from two UK sources. We show that birth weight provides a distinctly limited picture of the uterine environment, capturing both positive and negative aspects of fetal health. Other newborn measures are more informative about different dimensions of the prenatal environment and more predictive of child growth and cognitive development, beyond birth weight. Additionally, patterns of fetal growth are predictive of child physical and mental health conditions, beyond health at birth. Our results are robust to correcting for measurement error, and to accounting for child- and mother-speci c unobserved heterogeneity. Our analysis rationalizes a common finding in the early origins literature, that prenatal events can influence postnatal development without affecting birth outcomes. It further clari es the role of birth weight and height as markers of early health, and suggests caution in adopting birth weight as the main target of prenatal interventions.

Suggested Citation

  • Gabriella Conti & Mark Hanson & Hazel M. Inskip & Sarah Crozier & Cyrus Cooper & Keith Godfrey, 2018. "Beyond birth weight: the origins of human capital," IFS Working Papers W18/30, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  • Handle: RePEc:ifs:ifsewp:18/30
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    Cited by:

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    2. Daniel Auer & Johannes S. Kunz, 2021. "Communication Barriers and Infant Health: Intergenerational Effects of Randomly Allocating Refugees Across Language Regions," SoDa Laboratories Working Paper Series 2021-07, Monash University, SoDa Laboratories.
    3. Gabriella Conti & Giacomo Mason & Stavros Poupakis, 2019. "Developmental Origins of Health Inequality," Working Papers 2019-041, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    4. Trejo, Sam, 2020. "Exploring Genetic Influences on Birth Weight," SocArXiv 7j59q, Center for Open Science.
    5. De Cao, Elisabetta & McCormick, Barry & Nicodemo, Catia, 2019. "Does Unemployment Worsen Babies' Health? A Tale of Siblings, Maternal Behaviour and Selection," IZA Discussion Papers 12568, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    6. Clark, Andrew E. & D’Ambrosio, Conchita & Rohde, Nicholas, 2021. "Prenatal economic shocks and birth outcomes in UK cohort data," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 41(C).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Birth Weight; Fetal Development; Prenatal Investments; Developmental Origins of Health.;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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