Rucker Johnson


Rucker Johnson, Goldman School of Public Policy (UC Berkeley)
Robert Schoeni, Institute for Social Research (U of Michigan)

  1. Background & Objective

    The long-run consequences of growing up poor or experiencing early-life health shocks have far-reaching impacts and contribute to various socioeconomic dimensions of inequality. A large body of empirical evidence affirms, for example, the fetal origins hypothesis or "programming" concept. Such early-life health shocks persist and/or make future health status more sensitive to subsequent assaults.

    Our goal was to investigate linkages between health & economic status in initial stages of life, and health, education, & income in adulthood.

  2. Unique Aspects of this Research

    • 1st evidence of link between birth outcomes & adult health for a nationally representative U.S. sample
    • Childhood measures are not based on long recalls
    • Superior measures of income in childhood & adulthood
    • Data spanning substantial share of life course: 35 yrs
    • Sufficient sample of low-income and minority population to examine disparities
    • Comparisons within families: sibling fixed effects

  3. Research Questions

    • Socioeconomic determinants of birth outcomes:
      • Is there an intergenerational transmission of risk for low birth weight?
      • What are the long-run consequences of unintended pregnancy for the development of children beyond infancy?
    • What are the socioeconomic consequences of poor infant health over the life course?
    • Does low birth weight affect child/adult health, education, & labor market outcomes?
    • Does childhood family income affect child/adult health, education, and labor market earnings?
    • Do long-run consequences of low birth weight depend on...
      • childhood family income, health insurance, and parental health behaviors?

  4. Preview of Findings

    • Significant & substantive relationship between low birth weight & adult health, education, & earnings
      • Effect of low birth weight on adult health...
        • is smaller for families with health insurance at birth
        • increases with age
      • Effect on earnings only partially explained by effect on education
      • Robust to sibling fixed effects
    • Early-life events can explain substantial share of current racial health disparities in adulthood

  5. The Data & How We Used It

    Sample Selection:
    • Male PSID sample members born 1951-1975 & followed through 2003
      • 2,745 boys in 1,444 families
        • 1,187 families have at least 2 boys
      • 26,407 person-year observations
    • Key dependent variable is general health status
      • Health data available 1984-2003
        • Sample largely in their 20s, 30s, and 40s

  6. Series of Relationships Investigated:
    • Child and Adult health
      • low birth weight
      • childhood family income
      • health insurance, parental health behaviors, parental education, fertility preferences
      • interactions of the above factors
    • Child Cognitive Achievement and Educational attainment
      • low birth weight, child family income
    • Labor market outcomes
      • low birth weight
      • childhood family income
    Health Measures & Models:
    • Birth weight
      • Low birth weight reported by the mother in 1985: <5.5 lbs
    • Health measure - general health status (GHS)
    • Models
      • Regressions with & without sibling fixed effects
  7. Summary

    • Being born low weight...
      • ages you by 12 years,
      • increases the odds of dropping out of high school by 5 percentage points,
      • lowers achievement scores, and
      • lowers labor force participation by 5 percentage points, and
      • reduces labor market earnings by 14%
    • Effects on health are mitigated by having health insurance in childhood
    • Retrospectively reported health in childhood is strongly related to low birth weight
      • accounts for 20% of the birth weight effect on adult health
    • Prevalence of childhood conditions is related to low birth weight and parental economic status
    • Onset of hypertension, diabetes, stroke, asthma in adulthood strongly related to low birth weight and childhood poverty

  8. Implications

    • Long reach of childhood experiences
      • Interventions in early-life have long-run benefits
    • Intergenerational transmission of health & well-being reproduces disparities across generations



"The Road to Economic Self-Sufficiency: Job Quality and Job Transition Patterns After Welfare Reform" (with Mary Corcoran) published in the Journal of Policy Analysis & Management (Fall 2003), 22(4): 615-639.

"Landing a Job in Urban Space: The Extent and Effects of Spatial Mismatch", published in Regional Science & Urban Economics (May 2006), 36(3): 331-372 .

"Wage and Job Dynamics After Welfare Reform: The Importance of Job Skills", 2005. Forthcoming in Research in Labor Economics (2006, in press).

"Welfare Reform: The Morning After" (with Sheldon Danziger) published in the Milken Institute Review (Winter 2005).