From infant to mother: early disease environment and future maternal health
This paper examines the links between the disease environment around the time of a woman’s birth and her health at the time she delivers her own infant. Our results suggest that exposure to disease in early childhood significantly increases the incidence of diabetes in the population of future mothers. The exposed mothers are less likely to be married, have fewer years of education, are more likely to gain over 60 pounds while pregnant and are more likely to smoke while pregnant. Not surprisingly then, exposure increases the probability of low birth weight in the next generation, at least among whites. Among whites, this effect remains when we control for maternal behaviors as well as disease exposure. Among blacks, we find that maternal exposure reduces the incidence of low birth weight. The difference between whites and blacks may reflect a “scarring” vs. selection story; whites who go on to have children are negatively impacted, while blacks who go on to have children are positively selected having survived a higher early childhood mortality rate.