The Multigenerational Origins of Infant Health: Examining Social and Biological Pathways

Michael McFarland, Princeton University
Nancy E. Reichman, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
Bridget J. Goosby, University of Nebraska at Lincoln

The aim of this study is to test how childhood socioeconomic status and household structure impact four birth outcomes: low birth weight, gestational age, preterm birth, and abnormal health conditions. We develop and test a conceptual model connecting childhood social conditions, adult social conditions, pre-pregnancy health conditions, health behaviors during pregnancy, and complications during pregnancy to infant health. Medical files from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study are linked with survey data to test this model. Preliminary evidence suggests childhood conditions are indeed important for later infant health outcomes and that the effects of childhood conditions operate through pathway and scarring mechanisms. The analyses also suggest that birth outcomes have different social and biological etiologies. The results of this study show that the origins of infant health may begin in the mother’s childhood and also underscore the utility in incorporating multigenerational frameworks to understand how infant health disparities emerge.

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Presented in Poster Session 2