Low Birth Weight and Parental Investment: Do Parents Favor the Fittest Child?


  • This paper was edited by Deborah Carr.

Department of Sociology, 454 Boyle Hall, 100 Grant St., De Pere, WI 54115 (jamie.lynch@snc.edu).


Do parents contribute to birth weight disparities in status attainment? This study uses a nationally representative sample of 8,550 children and 1,450 twins from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort to investigate whether, as recent studies have suggested, parents favor healthier children. Children with poor health are found to receive fewer parental investments, including breast-feeding and quality parent–child interaction, but results from between- and within-family regression models, using low birth weight as a proxy for child health, find no evidence that parents compensate for or reinforce child health endowments. Instead, birth-weight disparities in parental investment are linked with observable family, maternal, and child sociodemographic characteristics. Our results raise doubts about the utility of human capital models to explain health disparities in parental investment and shed new light on the broad spectrum of disadvantage faced by children with poor health.