Date Posted: 2003
Children born in lower socioeconomic strata are more likely to engage in consumption habits that are deleterious to adult health, less likely to attain higher levels of education, and more likely to have lower income and wealth as adults. More recent epidemiological studies suggest a perhaps more profound idea, that an adult's ailments may depend importantly on his physical condition on the day of his birth. Owing to conditions that characterize their prenatal period and early infancy, children born to families of lower socioeconomic strata carry a permanent marker for higher rates of adult heart disease, and perhaps other ailments as well. In this paper, I report results from the Health and Retirement Survey that are consistent with this hypothesis. Accounting for adult consumption habits, adult socioeconomic status, and numerous other potentially confounding variables, the results show that men who are shorter and born to fathers with less education are more likely to develop various manifestations of heart disease in middle age. The data suggest that adult health effects from childhood are disease and gender specific. While the data leave open the pathway by which lifetime health effects are coded early on, the results suggest a potentially high return on resources devoted to ensuring health-conscious behavior during pregnancy and healthy diets during infancy.