Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Maternal Education and Investments in Children's Health

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Maternal Education and Investments in Children's Health

Article excerpt

The classic status attainment model argues that education begets various benefits that help parents promote the academic success, earning potential, and social class position of their children. As such, parents' socioeconomic status is reproduced in their children (Blau & Duncan, 1967; Sewell, Haller, & Portes, 1969). More contemporary studies have expanded on the basic status attainment model to yield additional insights into how parents' status is reproduced. First, this intergenerational phenomenon is set in motion when children are young. For example, parents' education has been linked to their children's wages in adulthood via their early academic skills (Heckman, 2006). Second, parental education differences in children's early academic skills are connected to parents' investment behaviors, perhaps more so than the economic factors that correlate with education (Augustine, 2014; Mayer, 1997). Third, parental education not only begets higher levels of parental investment but also helps parents better adapt to meet the changing developmental needs of their children (Kalil, Ryan, & Corey, 2012). Finally, the connection between parents' and children's socioeconomic status that is formed during early childhood extends beyond children's academic skills to their health (Palloni, 2006). For example, child health has forecast adult labor market participation and mortality (Case, Fertig, & Paxson, 2005; Haas, Glymour, & Berkman, 2011).

In this study we weaved together these four ideas to examine whether mothers' education is positively associated with investments in children's health during early childhood and whether education differences in these investments will be most pronounced at child ages when a specific health need is more intensive or developmentally important. Our specific focus on health-related parenting aimed to advance our understanding of the reproduction of inequality by connecting maternal education to several health investment behaviors previously associated with children's health outcomes that have yet to be explicitly and consistently linked to maternal education throughout early childhood. Our investigation on variation in the levels of such practices by mothers' education at different "sensitive" periods of early childhood speaks to a widening socioeconomic gap in children's opportunity for mobility observed by various scholars and often termed diverging destinies (McLanahan, 2004).

To preview our approach, one hypothesis we tested is that maternal education disparities would consistently be associated with greater frequency of meeting the recommended number of and timing of child well-child visits when children are young (birth through kindergarten) but that this difference would be widest during infancy, when the number of recommended pediatric visits is much greater (around four vs. one) and thus the difficulty in meeting such recommendations is too. In addition to preventative health, we tested hypotheses related to children's nutrition, shared family dinners, physical activity, television watching, safety, and smoke exposure-all concepts previously linked to child health outcomes. Our sample was a large, nationally representative cohort of children born in 2001 whose families participated in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B; see http://nces.ed.gov/ecls/birth.asp). The results of this study provide a fresh understanding of the salience of maternal education to parenting behaviors connected to children's health and further insight into the origins of the reproduction of inequality.

Background

Maternal Education and Health-Related Parenting

At present, scholars have amassed substantial evidence linking mothers' education with various child physical health outcomes, such as general health and asthma (Chen, Martin, & Matthews, 2006; Spencer, 2005). The main explanation for the connection between maternal education and child health (net of income or other economic resources) is that education provides women with more knowledge of and commitment to appropriate health practices (e. …

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