Neonatal Health
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This predictor describes how neonatal health can affect future physical health and power and autonomy. This extends to predicting how neonatal health affects academic performance and economic outcomes. Neonatal health has strong implications for later-life health. Compromised health can affect children’s academic performance and create a sense of loss of power and the ability to control one’s life and opportunities. And poor academic performance has implications for later-life financial opportunities.

Evidence of the Relationship between Predictor and Related Outcomes

  • Childhood health problems can negatively affect adult physical health, which can, in turn, affect employment opportunities and wages (Case and Paxson 2006). The situation is similar for later-life mental health: People whose birth weight was extremely low are at greater risk for developing difficulties, including attentional control, anxiety-related, and social interaction problems (Mathewson et al. 2017).
  • Poor childhood health also predicts significantly less education, lower occupational niches, and diminished economic returns in the form of labor earnings and accumulated wealth later in life, compared with adults who did not have poor health in childhood (Haas 2006). This influence was also observed by Figlio and colleagues (2014), who matched data for all children born in Florida from 1992 to 2002 with their public school data. They found that the effects of early health on cognitive development are constant throughout children’s school career. These effects are similar across a range of backgrounds and are invariant to measures of school quality, suggesting that the effects of early health on adult outcomes are robust.
  • Conley and Bennett (2000) found with a sibling fixed-effects model that a child with a low birth weight is substantially less likely than their sibling to graduate from high school by age 19, with the probability of graduation reduced by 74 percent. The sibling fixed-effects framework—which eliminates the confounding effects of unobserved shared family-level factors such as socioeconomic conditions and maternal characteristics—demonstrates the strength in this relationship.
  • A meta-analysis by Mathewson and colleagues (2017) found evidence that extremely low birth weight survivors are at greater overall risk for psychological difficulties than their peers who had normal birth weights. Subgroup analyses suggested these findings are relatively robust to region of birth, secular changes in care, and presence of neurosensory impairment.

How Investments Can Influence the Predictor at State or Local Levels

At the local level, public health workers and public assistance caseworkers can steer eligible families to programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Medicaid, all of which are associated with improved neonatal health outcomes. Nurse home-visiting programs, especially for first-time mothers in families with low-incomes, can also improve infant health and child development (Peacock et al. 2013).


The primary reference is marked with an asterisk.

Case, Anne, and Christina H. Paxson. 2006. “Children’s Health and Social Mobility.” Future of Children 16 (2): 151–73.

Conley, Dalton, and Neil G. Bennett. 2000. “Is Biology Destiny? Birth Weight and Life Chances.” American Sociological Review 65 (3): 458–67.

Figlio, David, Jonathan Guryan, Krzysztof Karbownik, and Jeffrey Roth. 2014. “The Effects of Poor Neonatal Health on Children’s Cognitive Development.” American Economic Review 104 (12): 3921–55.

* Haas, Steven 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 (4): 339–54.

Mathewson, Karen J., Cheryl H. T. Chow, Kathleen G. Dobson, Eliza I. Pope, Louis A. Schmidt, and Ryan J. Van Lieshout. 2017. “Mental Health of Extremely Low Birth Weight Survivors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Psychological Bulletin 143 (4): 347–83.

Peacock, Shelley, Stephanie Konrad, Erin Watson, Darren Nickel, and Nazeem Muhajarine. 2013. “Effectiveness of Home Visiting Programs on Child Outcomes: A Systematic Review.” BMC Public Health 13, 17.

Healthy Environment and Access to Good Health Care

Related outcome: Good physical health

Mobility dimension engaged: Economic success; power and autonomy

Mother and Child Illustration