Beyond birth weight: the origins of human capital

Document type
Working Paper
Conti, Gabriella; Hanson, Mark; Inskip, Hazel
Institute for Fiscal Studies
Date of publication
19 November 2018
IFS Working Paper; WP18/30
Children and Young People, Health Services, Families
Social welfare
Material type

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Birth weight is the most widely used indicator of neonatal health. It has been consistently shown to relate to a variety of outcomes throughout the life cycle. Lower birth weight babies have worse health and cognition from childhood, lower educational attainment, wages, and longevity. But what's in birth weight? What are the aspects of the prenatal environment that birth weight actually reflect? This paper addresses this fundamental, yet currently unanswered, question, using unique data with fetal ultrasound measurements from two UK sources. It shows that birth weight provides a distinctly limited picture of the uterine environment, capturing both positive and negative aspects of fetal health.

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