Race and the Inheritance of Low Birth Weight

Conley, D. & Bennett, N.
Social Biology. 47:77-93,

This paper uses intergenerational data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to address the black-white difference in propensities toward low birth weight (LBW). We determine that socioeconomic conditions account for some variation in low birth weight across race. Further, while race differences in the risk of low birth weight cannot be explained entirely, we find that the inheritance of parental birth weight status dramatically reduces the black-white gap in low birth weight. Intergenerational legacies of poor infant health explain the largest share of racial disparities in filial birth weight. We then try to assess whether this intergenerational transmission of low birth weight is indeed genetic by using grandparent-fixed effects models to factor out, to a great extent, family socioeconomic circumstances. We find that even within this framework, both father's and mother's birth weight status have an important impact on filial outcomes. However, the degree of inheritance is weaker for African Americans than for other races. Finally, we theorize that the importance of paternal birth weight status implies a genetic association that does not work through the uterine environment but rather through the fetus itself.