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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2009

Dora L. Costa
Associate Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Economics, E52, 50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02139; and Faculty Research Fellow, National Bureau of Economic Research.


Socioeconomic differences in birth weight have narrowed since 1900. The mother's nutritional status during her growing years, proxied by height, accounted for most of the differences in the past, but not today. Children born at the beginning of this century compared favorably to modem populations in terms of birth weights, but suffered high fetal and neonatal death rates. By day ten children in the past were at a disadvantage because best practice resulted in insufficient feeding. Improved obstetrical, medical, and nutritional knowledge has increased weight in the first days of life, which may account for increased adult stature.

Copyright © The Economic History Association 1998

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