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Title: The Evolving Importance of Early-Life Health for the Reproduction of Educational Disadvantage Across Birth Cohorts
Authors: Berchick, Edward Reeves
Advisors: McLanahan, Sara S
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: Child health
Subjects: Sociology
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Across the last five decades, the United States has experienced rising social inequality that elicits concern about children’s future life chances. Increasingly unequal family and economic contexts suggest that children of disadvantaged families might face lower social mobility prospects across birth cohorts. However, the situation is not entirely bleak: alongside inequality’s growth, a number of policies have increased educational opportunities and improved the floor level of health. This dissertation asks how these competing forces might have reshaped the reproduction of educational disadvantage across birth cohorts. In particular, it focuses on how rising inequality and “rising tides” of wellbeing might have revised the importance of child health as a channel through which educational disadvantage is passed from parents to children. I examine two related questions in successive chapters. First, has the association between mother’s education and child health changed across birth cohorts? Second, has the association between child health and educational attainment changed across birth cohorts? The first two empirical chapters address the first question. Using data from the National Health Interview Surveys (NHIS), I examine whether the maternal gradient in children’s subjective health has changed across 1965-2013 birth cohorts. I find that maternal education has become a weaker predictor of subjective health, but that this overall decline also masks important heterogeneity in explanatory pathways. The second empirical chapter extends this question to see if these declines extend to another measure of health, namely children’s reported conditions. Higher maternal education means higher probabilities of having a condition, but this relationship has also attenuated across birth cohorts. In the final empirical chapter, I examine whether child health’s implications for life chances have changed across cohorts. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), I find that early-life health (as measured through low birth weight) became a weaker—and, in some cases, non-important—predictor of educational attainment across 1940-1985 birth cohorts. Taken together, this dissertation’s findings suggest that “rising tides” have overwhelmed rising social inequality, rendering child health a less important channel for the transmission of educational attainment from parents to children.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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