, Volume 54, Issue 5, pp 1845–1871 | Cite as

The Simultaneous Effects of Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Child Health on Children’s Cognitive Development

  • Dohoon LeeEmail author
  • Margot Jackson


Family socioeconomic status (SES) and child health are so strongly related that scholars have speculated child health to be an important pathway through which a cycle of poverty is reproduced across generations. Despite increasing recognition that SES and health work reciprocally and dynamically over the life course to produce inequality, research has yet to address how these two pathways simultaneously shape children’s development. Using longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and marginal structural models, we ask three questions: (1) how does the reciprocal relationship between socioeconomic disadvantage and child health affect estimates of each circumstance on children’s cognitive development?; (2) how do their respective effects vary with age?; and (3) do family SES and child health have differential effects on cognitive development across population subgroups? The results show that the negative effects of socioeconomic disadvantage and poor health are insensitive to their reciprocal relationships over time. We find divergent effects of socioeconomic disadvantage and poor health on children’s cognitive trajectories, with a widening pattern for family SES effects and a leveling-off pattern for child health effects. Finally, the effects of socioeconomic disadvantage are similar across all racial/ethnic groups, while the effects of child health are largely driven by white children. We discuss theoretical and policy implications of these findings for future research.


Socioeconomic disadvantage Child health Reciprocity Cognitive development 



Both authors contributed equally to the article. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2015 meeting of the RC28 of ISA in Philadelphia. We gratefully acknowledge the Demography Editors and reviewers, Larry Wu, Florencia Torche, Mike Hout, and Paula England for their valuable feedback on earlier drafts of this article. This research was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2014S1A3A2044496).

Supplementary material

13524_2017_605_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (386 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 386 kb)


  1. Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2000). Manuals for the ASEBA preschool forms and profiles. Burlington: Research Center for Children, Youth, and Families, University of Vermont.Google Scholar
  2. Adler, N. E., Boyce, T., Chesney, M. A., Cohen, S., Folkman, S., Kahn, R. L., & Syme, S. L. (1994). Socioeconomic status and health: The challenge of the gradient. American Psychologist, 49, 15–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aizer, A., & Currie, J. (2014). The intergenerational transmission of inequality: Maternal disadvantage and health at birth. Science, 344, 856–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Allison, P. D. (2002). Missing data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Amato, P. R., & Keith, B. (1991). Parental divorce and the well-being of children: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 26–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Andersen, R. M., Mullner, R. M., & Cornelius, L. J. (1987). Black-white differences in health status: Methods or substance? Milbank Quarterly, 65, 72–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bartley, M., & Plewis, I. (1997). Does health-selective mobility account for socioeconomic differences in health? Evidence from England and Wales, 1971 to 1991. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 38, 376–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boardman, J. D., Powers, D. A., Padilla, Y. C., & Hummer, R. A. (2002). Low birth weight, social factors, and developmental outcomes among children in the United States. Demography, 39, 353–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in capitalist America. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  10. Busch, S. H., & Barry, C. L. (2007). Mental health disorders in childhood: Assessing the burden on families. Health Affairs, 26, 1088–1095.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Case, A., Fertig, A., & Paxson, C. (2005). The lasting impact of childhood health and circumstance. Journal of Health Economics, 24, 365–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Case, A., & Paxson, C. (2006). Children’s health and social mobility. Future of Children, 16(2), 151–173.Google Scholar
  13. Chandola, T., Bartley, M., Sacker, A., Jenkinson, C., & Marmot, M. (2003). Health selection in the Whitehall II study, UK. Social Science & Medicine, 56, 2059–2072.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cheadle, J. E., & Goosby, B. J. (2010). Birth weight, cognitive development, and life chances: A comparison of siblings from childhood into early adulthood. Social Science Research, 39, 570–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cole, S. R., & Hernán, M. A. (2008). Constructing inverse probability of treatment weights for marginal structural models. American Journal of Epidemiology, 168, 656–664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Conley, D., & Bennett, N. (2000). Is biology destiny? Birth weight and life chances. American Sociological Review, 65, 458–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Currie, J. (2005). Health disparities and gaps in school readiness. Future of Children, 15(1), 117–138.Google Scholar
  18. Currie, J. (2009). Healthy, wealthy, and wise? Socioeconomic status, poor health in childhood, and human capital development. Journal of Economic Literature, 47, 87–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dickman, S. J. (1990). Functional and dysfunctional impulsivity: Personality and cognitive correlates. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 95–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. DiPrete, T. A., & Jennings, J. L. (2012). Social and behavioral skills and the gender gap in early educational achievement. Social Science Research, 41, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Donenberg, G., & Baker, B. L. (1993). The impact of young children with externalizing behaviors on their families. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 21, 179–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Duncan, G. J., Yeung, W. J., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Smith, J. R. (1998). How much does childhood poverty affect the life chances of children? American Sociological Review, 63, 406–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Duncan, G. J., Ziol-Guest, K., & Kalil, A. (2010). Early-childhood poverty and adult attainment, behavior, and health. Child Development, 81, 306–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. (1997). Examiner’s manual for the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Services.Google Scholar
  25. Elder, G. H. (1994). Time, human agency, and social change: Perspectives on the life course. Social Psychological Quarterly, 57, 4–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Elder, G. H. (1998). The life course and human development. In W. Damon & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology, Volume 1: Theoretical models of human development (pp. 939–991). New York, NY: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  27. Farkas, G. (2003). Cognitive skills and noncognitive traits and behaviors in stratification processes. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 541–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ferraro, K. F., & Farmer, M. M. (1996). Double jeopardy to health hypothesis for African Americans: Analysis and critique. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 37, 27–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ferraro, K. F., & Kelly-Moore, J. A. (2003). Cumulative disadvantage and health: Long-term consequences of obesity? American Sociological Review, 68, 707–729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ferraro, K. F., & Shippee, T. P. (2009). Aging and cumulative inequality: How does inequality get under the skin? Gerontologist, 49, 333–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ferraro, K. F., Shippee, T. P., & Schafer, M. H. (2009). Cumulative inequality theory for research on aging and the life course. In V. L. Bengtson, M. Silverstein, N. M. Putney, & D. Gans (Eds.), Handbook of theories of aging (pp. 413–433). New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  32. Finch, B. K. (2003). Early origins of the gradient: The relationship between socioeconomic status and infant mortality in the United States. Demography, 40, 675–699.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Finch, B. K., Hummer, R. A., Reindl, M., & Vega, W. A. (2002). Validity of self-rated health among Latino(a)s. American Journal of Epidemiology, 155, 755–759.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Garbarski, D. (2014). The interplay between child and maternal Health: Reciprocal relationships and cumulative disadvantage during childhood and adolescence. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 55, 91–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hall, M., & Farkas, G. (2011). Adolescent cognitive skills, attitudinal/behavioral traits, and career wages. Social Forces, 89, 1261–1285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hass, S. A. (2006). Health selection and the process of social stratification: The effect of childhood health on socioeconomic attainment. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 47, 339–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Heckman, J. (2007). The economics, technology, and neuroscience of human capability formation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, 13250–13255.Google Scholar
  38. Hernán, M. Á., Brumback, B., & Robins, J. M. (2002). Estimating the causal effect of zidovudine on CD4 count with a marginal structural model for repeated measures. Statistics in Medicine, 21, 1689–1709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hogan, D., Msall, M. E., Goldscheider, F. K., Shandra, C. L., & Avery, R. C. (2012). Family consequences of children’s disabilities. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  40. Hsin, A. (2012). Is biology destiny? Birth weight and differential parental treatment. Demography, 49, 1385–1405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Iceland, J. (2013). Poverty in America: A handbook. Los Angeles: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  42. Idler, E. L., & Kasl, S. V. (1995). Self-ratings of health: Do they also predict change in functional ability? Journal of Gerontology, Series B: Social Sciences, 508, S344–S353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jackson, M. I. (2009). Understanding links between adolescent health and educational attainment. Demography, 46, 671–694.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jackson, M. I. (2010). A life course perspective on child health, cognition and occupational skill qualifications in adulthood: Evidence from a British cohort. Social Forces, 89, 89–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Jackson, M. I. (2015). Cumulative inequality in child health and academic achievement. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 56, 262–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Jonsson, J. J. O. (2010). Child well-being and intergenerational inequality. Child Indicators Research, 3, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kadushin, C. (1964). Social class and the experience of ill health. Sociological Inquiry, 35, 67–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kerckhoff, A. C., Haney, L. B., & Glennie, E. (2001). System effects on educational achievement: A British–American comparison. Social Science Research, 30, 497–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kessler, R. C., Andrews, G., Mroczek, D., Ustun, B., & Wittchen, H.-U. (1998). The World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview short-form (CIDI-SF). International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 7, 171–185.Google Scholar
  50. Kröger, H., Pakpahan, E., & Hoffmann, R. (2015). What causes health inequality? A systematic review on the relative importance of social causation and health selection. European Journal of Public Health, 25, 951–960.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lee, D. (2014). Age trajectories of poverty during childhood and high school graduation. Sociological Science, 1, 344–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lichter, D. T., Parisi, D., & Toquino, M. C. (2012). The geography of exclusion: Race, segregation, and concentrated poverty. Social Problems, 59, 364–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. (1995). Social conditions as fundamental causes of disease. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 80–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lynch, S. M. (2006). Explaining life course and cohort variation in the relationship between education and health: The role of income. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 47, 324–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Magnuson, K., Waldfogel, J., & Washbrook, E. (2012). SES gradients in skills during the school years. In J. Ermisch, M. Jäntti, & T. M. Smeeding (Eds.), From parents to children: The intergenerational transmission of advantage (pp. 235–261). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  56. Masters, R. K., Hummer, R. A., & Powers, D. A. (2012). Educational differences in U.S. adult mortality: A cohort perspective. American Sociological Review, 77, 548–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Mathieson, K. S., & Tambs, K. (1999). The EAS temperament questionnaire: Factor structure, age trends, reliability, and stability in a Norwegian sample. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40, 431–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. McLeod, J. D., & Fettes, D. L. (2007). Trajectories of failure: The educational careers of children with mental health problems. American Journal of Sociology, 113, 653–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. McLeod, J. D., & Shanahan, M. J. (1993). Poverty, parenting and children’s mental health. American Sociological Review, 58, 351–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. McLeod, J. D., & Shanahan, M. J. (1996). Trajectories of poverty and children’s mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 37, 207–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. McLoyd, V. C., Cauce, A. M., Takeuchi, D., & Wilson, L. (2000). Marital processes and parental socialization in families of color: A decade review of research. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1070–1093.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Miech, R. A., Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., Wright, B. R. E., & Silva, P. A. (1999). Low socioeconomic status and mental disorders: A longitudinal study of selection and causation during young adulthood. American Journal of Sociology, 104, 1096–1131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Miech, R. A., Pampel, F., Kim, J., & Rogers, R. G. (2011). The enduring association between education and mortality: The role of widening and narrowing disparities. American Sociological Review, 76, 913–934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Morgan, S. L., & Winship, C. (2007). Counterfactuals and causal inference: Methods and principles for social research. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Mulatu, M. S., & Schooler, C. (2002). Causal connections between socio-economic status and health: Reciprocal effects and mediating mechanisms. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43, 22–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Noonan, K., Reichman, N. E., & Corman, H. (2005). New fathers’ labor supply: Does child health matter? Social Science Quarterly, 86, 1399–1417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Palloni, A. (2006). Reproducing inequalities: Luck, wallets, and the enduring effects of childhood health. Demography, 43, 587–615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Palloni, A., Milesi, C., White, R., & Turner, A. (2009). Early childhood health, reproduction of economic inequalities and the persistence of health and mortality differentials. Social Science & Medicine, 68, 1574–1582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Pearl, J. (2009). Causality: Models, reasoning, and inference. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Powers, E. T. (2001). New estimates of the impact of child disability on maternal employment. American Economic Review, 91(2), 135–139.Google Scholar
  71. Powers, E. T. (2003). Children’s health and maternal work activity: Estimates under alternative disability definitions. Journal of Human Resources, 38, 522–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Reichman, N. E., Corman, H., & Noonan, K. (2004). Effects of child health on parents’ relationship status. Demography, 41, 569–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Reichman, N. E., Teitler, J., Garfinkel, I., & McLanahan, S. (2001). Fragile Families: Sample and design. Children and Youth Services Review, 23, 303–326.Google Scholar
  74. Robins, J. M. (1999). Association, causation, and marginal structural models. Synthese, 121, 151–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Robins, J. M., Hernán, M. Á., & Brumback, B. (2000). Marginal structural models and causal inference in epidemiology. Epidemiology, 11, 550–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Royston, P. (2005). Multiple imputation of missing values: Update. Stata Journal, 5, 188–201.Google Scholar
  77. Shonkoff, J. P., & Phillips, D. (2000). From neurons to neighborhood: The science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  78. Smith, T. E. (1997). Differences between black and white students in the effects of parental separation on school grades. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 27, 25–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Stabile, M., & Allin, S. (2012). The economic costs of childhood disability. Future of Children, 22(1), 65–96.Google Scholar
  80. Thomas, D., & Frankenberg, E. (2002). Health, nutrition and economic prosperity: A microeconomic perspective. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 80, 106–113.Google Scholar
  81. Torche, F. (2011). The effect of maternal stress on birth outcomes: Exploiting a natural experiment. Demography, 48, 1473–1491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Vaughan, E. L., Feinn, R., Bernard, S., Brereton, M., & Kaufman, J. S. (2013). Relationships between child emotional and behavioral symptoms and caregiver strain and parenting stress. Journal of Family Issues, 34, 534–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. von Hippel, P. T. (2007). Regression with missing Ys: An improved strategy for analyzing multiply imputed data. Sociological Methodology, 37, 83–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Wagmiller, R. L., Lennon, M. C., Kuang, L., Alberti, P. M., & Aber, J. L. (2006). The dynamics of economic disadvantage and children’s life chances. American Sociological Review, 71, 847–866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Warren, J. R. (2009). Socioeconomic status and health across the life course: A test of the social causation and health selection hypotheses. Social Forces, 87, 2125–2153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Weschler, D. (1981). Wechsler adult intelligence scale-revised. New York, NY: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  87. Williams, D. R., Mohammed, S. A., Leavell, J., & Collins, C. (2010). Race, socioeconomic status, and health: Complexities, ongoing challenges, and research opportunities. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1186, 69–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Young, R., & Johnson, D. R. (2015). Handling missing values in longitudinal panel data with multiple imputation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 277–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyYonsei UniversitySeoulRepublic of Korea
  2. 2.Department of SociologyBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA

Personalised recommendations