Childhood Health and Family Formation

Edward Berchick, Princeton University

Research has increasingly considered the contribution of childhood health to the reproduction of socioeconomic and health inequalities. Although most work on the relationship between families and childhood health emphasizes family influences on health, the association is likely bidirectional. Health status during developmentally-important early years may leave lasting biological and social imprints that shape human capital acquisition, marriage prospects, fertility decisions, and fecundability. To investigate this potential connection between childhood health and family formation, I use longitudinal data from the National Child Development Study. I build on earlier research, but I take a wider perspective that examines a number of measures of childhood health (including birth weight, chronic conditions, and mental health) and family (fertility, marriage, and spousal characteristics). Marriage and fertility differences based on child health shape children’s early life environments and, therefore, life chances and contribute to the allocation of disadvantage in the subsequent generation.

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Presented in Session 132: Families Health and Well-Being