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)
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.