Does Growing Childhood Socioeconomic Inequality Mean Future Inequality in Adult Health?

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Over the past half century, American children have experienced increasingly unequal childhoods. The goal of this article is to begin to understand the implications of recent trends in social and economic inequalities among children for the future of inequalities in health among adults. The relative importance of many of the causal pathways linking childhood social and economic circumstances to adult health remains underexplored, and we know even less about how these causal pathways have changed over time. I combine a series of original analyses with reviews of relevant literature in a number of fields to inform a discussion of what growing childhood inequalities might mean for future inequalities in adult health. In the end, I argue that there is good reason to suppose that growing inequalities in children’s social and economic circumstances will lead to greater heterogeneity in adults’ morbidity and mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)292-330
Number of pages39
JournalAnnals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article benefited from skilled research assistance by Sarah Garcia. Some of the analyses described in this article are based on data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS) of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Since 1991, the WLS has been supported principally by the National Institute on Aging (AG-9775 and AG-21079), with additional support from the Vilas Estate Trust, the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. A public use file of data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study is available from the Data and Program Library Service, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706 and at . All errors or omissions, however, are the responsibility of the author. Please direct correspondence to John Robert Warren at .


  • health disparities
  • life course
  • socioeconomic inequality

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