Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 363–395 | Cite as

Birth order and health of newborns

What can we learn from Danish registry data?
  • Anne Ardila Brenøe
  • Ramona Molitor
Original Paper


We examine birth order differences in health of newborns and follow the children throughout childhood using high-quality administrative data on individuals born in Denmark between 1981 and 2010. Family fixed effects models show a positive and robust effect of birth order on health at birth; firstborn children are less healthy at birth. During earlier pregnancies, women are more likely to smoke, receive more prenatal care, and are more likely to suffer a medical pregnancy complication, suggesting worse maternal health. We further show that the health disadvantage of firstborns persists in the first years of life, disappears by age seven, and becomes a health advantage in adolescence. In contrast, later-born children are throughout childhood more likely to suffer an injury. The results on health in adolescence are consistent with previous evidence of a firstborn advantage in education and with the hypothesis that postnatal investments differ between first- and later-born children.


Birth order Child health Fetal health Health at birth Prenatal investments 

JEL Classification

I10 I12 I14 J12 J13 



We are thankful for helpful comments and suggestions from three anonymous referees, Stefan Bauernschuster, Sanni Nørgaard Breining, Michael Grimm, Timo Hener, Edward Samuel Jones, Jacob Alexander Lykke, Torben Heien Nielsen, Helmut Rainer, Heather Royer, members of the University of California Santa Barbara Human Capital Working Group, and participants at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Labor Economists 2016, the Royal Economic Society Conference 2016, the BGPE Research Workshop 2016, the Essen Health Conference 2015, the Bavarian Micro Day 2015, seminars at University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of Copenhagen; the Danish National Centre for Social Research; and the University of Passau.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Business Administration and EconomicsUniversity of PassauPassauGermany

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