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

Dora L. Costa

NBER Working Paper No. 6313 (Also Reprint No. r2234)
Issued in June 1999
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w6313

Published: Journal of Economic History, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 987-1009, December 1998. citation courtesy of

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