Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations

A Clean (Dollar) Bill of Health: Understanding Parental Socioeconomic Disparities in Child Health as Functions of Timing, Transitions and Exposure

Antwan Jones, Bowling Green State University


This dissertation uses 1979-2006 National Longitudinal Study of Youth data to explore three specific ways that parental socioeconomic status influences child health. First, I establish how timing matters in understanding how parental SES affects child. Results indicate that during formative years of child development, income is important for child health since it creates material conditions to ensure healthy development. However, as the child ages, the knowledge accrued by the parents through formal education becomes salient, as it ensures parents are supervising their child’s nutrition and maintaining good exercise/activity habits. In short, the SES-child health relationship is conditioned on the measure of SES employed.

Second, I establish how socioeconomic transitions matter in understanding how parental SES affects child health. Results indicate that mother’s employment and instability in father’s work increased their child’s BMI. Maternal employment could be associated with a decreased parenting role in the monitoring of exercise and foods. Father’s work transitions contribute to increases in both mother’s and child’s BMI. Thus, stability in father’s employment is greatly beneficial for child health. Parental employment also decreased the odds of a child being functionally limited (limitation of daily activities due to chronic conditions). In this case, higher SES translates to monitoring of warning signs of being limited. In addition, parental employment means that their child will have health insurance coverage that enables them to see physicians who could assess warning signs of functional limitations.

Third, I establish how exposure to different socioeconomic conditions before birth can shape child health. Results indicate socioeconomic selectivity does impact child health. Mothers whose mothers graduated high school are more likely to complete high school, but mothers whose mothers graduated college are less likely to complete college. Based on this intergenerational educational selectivity, I found that positive caretaking (e.g., breastfeeding) is associated with lower child BMIs while negative maternal characteristics (e.g., mothers with high BMIs) are associated with higher child BMIs. Thus, educational selectivity affects child health through values passed onto the child and the lifestyle in which the child is raised. In short, maternal education is directly tied to parenting, which relates to child health.