Early Childhood Origins of the Income/Health Gradient

The Role of Maternal Health Behaviors

Recent studies have demonstrated a connection between low-socioeconomic status and poor health in children. This study builds upon previous work on the income gradient in child health by testing whether the mother's health and behaviors during pregnancy and the child's early infancy can help explain this relationship. Data for this research project came from the 1988 National Maternal and Infant Health Survey and 1991 follow-up (NMIHS).

This study's findings reveal that health disparities begin very early in life. Almost uniformly, higher income and education are associated with pregnancy conditions and behaviors known to promote healthier pregnancies and healthier babies. These variables do not explain the relationship between family income and maternal-assessed health status of the child on a five-point scale, however. Future research should perhaps explore certain pathways linking income and child health not measured here, such as psychosocial pathways, including maternal stress and depression. Additionally, research should focus on whether differences in health assessments made by mothers correspond to differences in objective health status in the same way for higher- and lower-income respondents in order to clarify the usefulness of these types of assessments. In the meantime, the author suggests that specific health outcomes rather than assessments of global health status should be the focus when testing mechanisms responsible for the family income/child health gradient.