What is the link between mothers’ level of education and low birthweight?

Population and Societies

523, June 2015

Mothers with a low level of education or from a disadvantaged background have low birthweight babies more often than other women, and low birthweight is itself linked to a risk of ill-health in childhood and even in adult life. Using data from the Elfe child cohort study, which is following the lives of 18,000 children born in 2011, Lidia Panico, Maxim Tô and Olivier Thévenon explore the relationship between family socioeconomic status and newborn health.

The lower a mother’s educational level, the higher the risk that she will have a low birthweight baby (below 2.5kg). The risk is 50% higher for women with no qualifications than for women with a highschool diploma. Differences by educational level narrow slightly when household income and other factors such as birth order, mother’s age and parents’ height are taken into account, but they do not disappear. Smoking and alcohol consumption during pregnancy appear to play a role, partially explaining the higher proportion of low birthweight babies born to the least educated mothers. The variations in the risk of low birthweight by socioeconomic status are similar in France and the United Kingdom.

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