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Birth Weight, Math, and Reading Achievement Growth: A Multilevel Between-Sibling, Between-Families Approach.

September 2007

Bridget J. Goosby and Jacob E. Cheadle.

Download 'NPC Working Paper BW math and reading.pdf'.


We used multilevel covariance structure analysis to study the relationship between birth weight, family context, and youth math and reading comprehension growth from approximately age 5 until about age 14. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth Child Sample (CNLSY79), we build on previous research examining both the causal relationship between birth weight and subsequent academic achievement disparities, distinguishing between birth weight and other contextual social confounders both within and between families. Taking into account family characteristics, including those that vary between-siblings within-families, we find that lower birth weight is associated with lower math and reading scores at age 5. Although these birth weight gaps do not increase as children age, they do not decrease either. Additional findings indicate that the home environment has important developmental consequences from early childhood and into adolescence. Overall, this pattern of findings paints a complex picture of disadvantage, beginning in the womb and extending through a variety of mechanisms into adolescence.

Child Well-being and Child Development, Educational Attainment, Health, Health Insurance, and Health Care