The Role of Early Health Status in Social Stratification

Palloni, Alberto, and Carolina Milesi
Working paper no. 2003-02


The persistence of social class inequalities is a salient regularity in modern societies. In this paper we argue that there are mechanisms that link early health status and late socioeconomic achievement. Our discussion is based on well-established results in the social stratification literature, on recent investigations about determinants of wages and income in labor economics, and on life-course theories of adult health status. We suggest that early health status may be a non-trivial mechanism for the intergenerational transmission of social and economic inequalities. If so, it is also responsible for a process of health selection that may partially account for observed health and mortality differentials during adulthood. Our empirical work consists of providing new estimates from NLSY-C and ECLS-K of the effects of early health status on market and non-market traits related to wages. We find that the effects are non trivial and, in many cases, are large and significant. Although this does not prove that early health status exerts a strong influence on social and economic inequalities nor that it is a contributor to the heritability of social class positions, it does provide support for the idea that it constitutes a mechanism that deserves more attention than what it has been given to it in the past.