Reproducing childhood hardship

A new long-term study of children born in Britain in 1958 finds that girls exposed to hardship at early ages are more likely to have low-birthweight babies and preterm births. That is, the children of hardship were more likely to bear children who face hardships right out of the starting blocks.

“Hardship” data were collected at several home visits in childhood and adolescence. They were grouped by a process called factor analysis to produce a total hardship score. The components used, and their groupings are here:

The hardship effect on birth complications partly resulted from the fact that girls with more hardships as children were more likely to smoke as adults, and more likely to be poor themselves. But the statistical analysis showed this didn’t account for all of the childhood hardship effect. (We already know that smoking itself is passed from parents to children.)

More evidence for the intergenerational transmission of social class, via health outcomes. That social class has such momentum is not surprising. The question (which this study can’t answer) is how much social policy or institutions impede or derail — rather than accelerate — that intergenerational train.

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