An analysis of matched birth and school records of 1.6 million children in Florida born between 1992 and 2002 shows that the higher the children’s weight at birth, the better that child’s later performance on reading and math tests.
The findings were published in the December issue of the American Economic Review and conducted by professors at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. The birthweight-to-performance connection held true among children with similar family backgrounds, such as family wealth and mother’s education. So, for example, a heavier baby born to a college-educated mother demonstrated better school performance than a low-birthweight baby born to another college-educated mother. In the study, low birthweight was defined as below 2,500 grams, or about 5.5 pounds.
However, other social factors had a stronger effect than birthweight: a normal-birthweight baby born to a mother who dropped out of high school had worse school performance than a low-birthweight baby born to a college-educated mother, the findings showed.
The researchers conducted further analyses of the schools that the children attended, noting that the effect of birthweight does not appear to be overcome by attending a higher-quality school.
In a press release announcing the findings, Jeffrey Roth, a research professor of pediatrics in the University of Florida College of Medicine and a co-author of the study, said the study showed that early health problems cannot always be overcome by schools.
“We tend to think that good schools are places where struggling kids get special attention and motivated teachers can correct any problems with learning,” he said. “This research indicates that is not always the case. Good schools are good for everyone, but even the best schools don’t seem to differentially help kids with early health disadvantage.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.