Socioeconomic Gradients in Early Child Health Across Race, Ethnicity and Nativity

June 2006

Lenna Nepomnyaschy, Columbia University.

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There are large disparities in child health by family socioeconomic status (SES). Low SES mothers are much more likely to have poor birth outcomes (infant mortality, low birth weight and preterm births) (Cramer 1995; Kramer et al. 2000) and are much more likely to have children with a variety of health problems than mothers of higher SES (Spencer 2003; Wood 2003). Prior research has concluded that there are gradients in the relationship between SES and adult health (Link and Phelan 1995; Marmot, Kogevinas and Elston 1987). In other words, this relationship is not only present when comparing extremes of SES, but at each level, with those who are economically better off being more healthy than those just below them in the distribution. More recent research has shown that this SES health gradient exists for various measures of child health, as well (Case, Lubotsky and Paxson 2002; Chen, Matthews and Boyce 2002). In the United States, these disparities go hand in hand with race and ethnicity, and are especially evident in poor health outcomes for black children, who are also much more likely to be of low socioeconomic status. However, some ethnic minority groups appear to have much more favorable child health outcomes than would be expected given their socioeconomic status. Therefore, it appears that the relationship between socioeconomic status and child health may differ substantially across racial, ethnic and immigrant groups in the United States, but very little is known about these interactions.

Child Well-being and Child Development, Health, Health Insurance, and Health Care, Race and Ethnicity