, Volume 55, Issue 1, pp 249–269 | Cite as

Health Endowment at Birth and Variation in Intergenerational Economic Mobility: Evidence From U.S. County Birth Cohorts

  • Cassandra RobertsonEmail author
  • Rourke O’Brien


New estimates of intergenerational economic mobility reveal substantial variation in the spatial distribution of opportunity in the United States. Efforts to explain this variation in economic mobility have conspicuously omitted health despite it being a key pathway for the transmission of economic position across generations. We begin to fill this gap in the literature by examining the relationship between health endowment at birth and intergenerational economic mobility across county birth cohorts in the United States, drawing on estimates from two population-level data sets. Exploiting variation across counties and over time, we find a negative relationship between the incidence of low-weight births and the level of economic mobility as measured in adulthood for the county birth cohorts in our sample. Our results build on a large and growing literature detailing the role of early childhood health in the transmission of economic status across generations and suggest that the incidence of low-weight births is negatively associated with intergenerational economic mobility.


Birth weight Mobility Inequality Health 



The authors thank Christopher Jencks, Jason Beckfield, Bruce Western, Lisa Berkman, Ichiro Kawachi, and Simo Goshev for their comments and support. Cassandra Robertson thanks the Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Wellbeing for their generous support. This research was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program and a core grant to the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (P2C HD047873).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Robert M. La Follette School of Public AffairsUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA

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