Lecture delivered by Juho Härkönen, Assistant Professor at the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI), Stockholm University.
Childhood conditions can have a lasting impact on the life-course. Recent years have witnessed a renewed and increasing interest in childhood health as a predictor of socioeconomic and health outcomes later in life. In this study, we analyze the effects of fetal health conditions on educational attainment at age 31 and the role fetal health plays in the intergenerational transmission of educational inequality. Our central contribution to the literature comes from the use of clinically defined health conditions, which feature prevalently in the medical literature and are known correlates of birth and other short-term outcomes. Using ordinal logit models and data from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 Study, we find that mother's smoking during pregnancy has the most robust negative effect on educational attainment. Furthermore, our results suggest a dose-response relationship, and weaker effects if the mother quit smoking during the first trimester. We also find that mother's anemia during pregnancy is associated with lower levels of attained education. Other health indicators - and most notably, preterm birth and small size for gestational age - do not predict later education. These health factors explain little of the persistent class background inequalities in educational attainment, but account for 12 to 19 percent of the difference between children born to unmarried versus married mothers. Our results point to the usefulness of clinical childhood health measures instead of or in addition to more general ones. We also conclude that widening class disparities in mothers' prenatal smoking may increase its importance as a pathway through which socioeconomic (dis)advantage is transmitted across generations.