, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 587-615

Reproducing inequalities: Luck, wallets, and the enduring effects of childhood health

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In this article, I argue that research on social stratification, on intergenerational transmission of inequalities, and on the theory of factor payments and wage determination will be strengthened by studying the role played by early childhood health. I show that the inclusion of such a factor requires researchers to integrate theories in each of these fields with new theories linking early childhood health conditions and events that occur at later stages in the life course of individuals, particularly physical and mental health as well as disability and mortality. The empirical evidence I gather shows that early childhood health matters for the achievement of, or social accession to, adult social class positions. Even if the magnitude of associations is not overwhelming, it is not weaker than that found between adult social accession and other, more conventional and better-studied individual characteristics, such as educational attainment. It is very likely that the evidence presented in this article grossly underplays the importance of early childhood health for adult socioeconomic achievement.

This article is based on a presidential address delivered at the 2006 annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Los Angeles, March 30–April 2. I am most grateful to Sam Preston, Larry Bumpass, and Hal Winsborough for their detailed comments and encouragement. Aimée Dechter, Bob Hauser, Ross Matsueda, and Betty Thomson provided suggestions at various points. The workshop organized by the Sociology Department at Northwestern University was a precious opportunity to discuss some of the ideas contained in this article. I owe a large debt that no wallet could repay to the graduate students and associates who supported me and provided important insights from start to finish: Gilbert Brenes, Mary McEniry, Carolina Milesi, Malena Monteverde, Beatriz Novak, Alyn Turner, Carolina Santamaria, and Robert White. Janet Clear deserves gratitude for her painstaking editorial work at all stages and incarnations of this paper. Finally, I would like to thank the editors of Demography for their patience and suggestions that enabled me to transform a speech into a paper. The research work on which this article is based was supported through infrastructure, research, and training funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute on Aging, and the Fogarty International Center. Funded projects include the Center for Demography and Ecology (R24HD047873), Center for Demography of Health and Aging (P30AG017266), Health Conditions of Elderly Puerto Ricans-PREHCO (R01AG016209), Health Conditions Among Elderly in Latin America (R37AG025216), and Fogarty International Training in Population Health (D43TW001586).