NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Why is Health Related to Socioeconomic Status?

Ellen Meara

NBER Working Paper No. 8231
Issued in April 2001
NBER Program(s):   HC

There are striking disparities in morbidity and mortality by socioeconomic status (SES) within the United States. I examine pregnancy and health at birth to investigate possible mechanisms linking SES and health. I find that a limited set of maternal health habits during pregnancy, particularly smoking habits, can explain about half (one third) of the correlation between SES and low birth weight among white (black) mothers. I show evidence on three hypotheses to explain why health habits vary by SES. First, differences in knowledge by SES create only modest differences in health behaviors by SES, explaining about 10 percent of differential smoking by education. Second, women respond to common knowledge differentially by SES, so that knowledge and its use combined explain up to one third of differential smoking by education. Third, the most important determinants of differential health behavior are 'third variables,' or variables that can simultaneously determine health habits and SES. Finally, I show evidence that network effects at the family level exacerbate differences in behavior regardless of the source.

download in pdf format
   (292 K)

email paper

The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

This paper is available as PDF (292 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w8231

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Cutler, Lleras-Muney, and Vogl w14333 Socioeconomic Status and Health: Dimensions and Mechanisms
Cutler and Lleras-Muney w12352 Education and Health: Evaluating Theories and Evidence
Currie and Stabile w9098 Socioeconomic Status and Health: Why is the Relationship Stronger for Older Children?
Adams, Hurd, McFadden, Merrill, and Ribeiro Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise? Tests for Direct Causal Paths between Health and Socioeconomic Status
Currie w13987 Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Socioeconomic Status, Poor Health in Childhood, and Human Capital Development
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us