Birth Weight and Early Cognitive Development: Does Parenting Mediate the Relationship?
Jamie L. Lynch, St. Norbert College
Benjamin Gibbs, Brigham Young University
Low-birth-weight children tend to have less developed math and reading ability in early childhood. Recent research suggests parents may contribute to birth-weight inequality by favoring the “fittest child.” Though this conclusion is debated, no study has yet to test whether parental investment meaningfully contributes to birth-weight disparities in cognitive development. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort, we observe significant birth weight gaps in early math and reading skill at age four. Whereas more than half of the achievement gaps are explained by observed variation in racial/ethnic and socioeconomic status, we find no evidence of parenting mediating or moderating early health disparities in cognitive development associated with socioeconomic status. These results are consistent with research indicating parental investment has a negligible role in health disparities associated with cognitive development.