Childhood growth and socioeconomic outcomes in early adulthood evidence from the inter-war United States

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Childhood malnutrition and its later life effects were important concerns in European and North American social policy in the early twentieth century. However, there have been few studies of the long-term socioeconomic consequences of malnutrition in childhood. We use a unique longitudinal dataset to provide credible causal estimates of the effects of childhood nutrition on early-adult educational and employment outcomes. Our dataset includes 2,499 children in Saint Paul, Minnesota who were weighed and measured in a national children’s health survey in 1918/1919 at 0–6 years of age. We observe those same people in the 1920, 1930 and 1940 U.S. censuses allowing us to measure childhood socioeconomic status, adolescent school attendance (1930) and early-adult wages, and employment and educational attainment (1940). Examining variation between biological siblings, we are able to obtain credibly causal estimates of the relationship between childhood stature and weight and later life outcomes, largely canceling out the bias otherwise resulting from their joint correlation with genes and socioeconomic background. Because the initial survey located children within households, we identify the effect of differences in early childhood nutrition from differences between male siblings. Consistent with contemporary evidence from developing countries, we find that being taller and heavier in early childhood is associated with better educational and labor market outcomes. Identifying all effects within families to control for socioeconomic background and family structure, we find a standard deviation increase in BMI in early childhood was associated with a 3% increase in weekly earnings and that boys who were heavier for their age at the initial survey were 10% less likely to be unemployed in 1940. Taken together, these results confirm the importance of investments in early-life health for later-life outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-255
Number of pages27
JournalHistory of the Family
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Nutrition
  • United States
  • children
  • growth and development
  • stature

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


Dive into the research topics of 'Childhood growth and socioeconomic outcomes in early adulthood evidence from the inter-war United States'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this