Nancy Folbre, UMass Amherst economics professor, writes in the Economix blog about how low birth weight is a strong economic indicator of how a child will do in society. She also argues that exposure to environmental pollution is a key contributor to the health of newborns and has a strong impact on birth weight. (New York Times, 6/27/11)
June 27, 2011
Born to Lose: Health Inequality at Birth
By NANCY FOLBRE
Epidemiologists and economists have long agreed that low birth weight is an important, albeit approximate, predictor of future health problems. A wealth of new economic research tracing individuals over time shows that it is also an approximate predictor of future earnings problems, with statistical effects almost as strong as children’s test scores.
Among other things, low birth weight increases the probability of suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and lowers the probability of graduating from high school.
In the current American Economic Review, Janet Currie of Princeton, a pioneer in this new area of research, summarizes recent findings and points out that children of black mothers who dropped out of high school are three times as likely as children of white college-educated mothers to suffer low birth weight.
Many of the mechanisms that underlie this inequality are linked to characteristics of the physical environment, such as exposure to environmental toxins.
Gerald Friedman, UMass Amherst economics professor, appeared on WGBY’s Connecting Point to discuss the problems with our current health care system. According to Friedman, 15% of the U.S. population does not have health insurance and approximately one-third of Americans do not have insurance at some point during the year or inadequate coverage. “We have superb health care and wonderful technology, but a growing part of the American population doesn’t have access to it.”
Massachusetts has done a much better job than other states addressing the problem of access. In fact, 98% of residents are now covered as a result of the health care bill that came into effect in 2006. While Friedman acknowledges that this is a major accomplishment, he is concerned that we have not addressed the issue of cost. He cites accountable care organizations as a possible solution to address the rising costs of health care, but is not convinced they can work within our current insurance system. Friedman believes that ultimately some sort of national health care system, which is the system adopted by many other countries, may be the only solution.
M.V. Lee Badgett
A columnist writing in response to the passage of a new law in New York legalizing same-sex marriage says the institution of marriage is evolving. The author cites research done by M.V. Lee Badgett, economics and director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration, and her book, “When Gay People Get Married.” In researching the book, Badgett found that European countries that legalized same-sex marriage during the past 15 years saw lower divorce rates and higher levels of heterosexual marriage than countries that didn’t legalize it. (Newsday, 6/26/11)