The effect of growing up poor on early child development in Flanders – an analysis of birth cohorts 2006 – 2009

Lieselot De Keyser, Ghent University
Ronan Van Rossem, Ghent University

Objective. Early childhood is often to be the most important developmental phase throughout one’s lifespan. Many studies have demonstrated that the socioeconomic deprivation of a household negatively affects the neo- and perinatal health of children born into these households. This paper examines to what extent the socioeconomic household background – measured by a poverty index and maternal education - influences birth characteristics and the physical development of young children during the first three years of their life. Method. The administrative IKAROS dataset registers longitudinal data on the development of nearly all children in Flanders. The study uses data of children born between 2006 – 2009. Physical health is operationalized by 2 parameters : weight-for-age and height-for-age. Poverty-risk is measured as an index, based on 6 household deprivation indicators : income, education, employment, stimulation, housing and health status. Results. First, maternal education better predicts differences in both weight- and height development than the poverty index does. Second, despite that differences are relatively small in present-day society, the size of the differences is more or less consistent during the measurement period. Third, the weight development of children of low-educated mothers is during the first six months a little retarded. From then on, these children overcompensate with higher weight-for-age z-scores than children of higher educated mothers. Discussion. Despite all initiatives in Flanders to reduce the effects of socioeconomic inequalities on child development, a social gradient is still observable in the physical development of young children. As health problems early in life may be predictors of health status later in life, monitoring of all children from the conception on must remain a policy priority.

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Presented in Session 81: Child well-being, health and development