The so-called fetal origins hypothesis predicts that poor health in utero should be followed by chronic disease in adulthood, and indeed studies of brief famines back up the claim. But an analysis by Columbia University economist Douglas Almond indicates that problems for the less robust unborn extend to socioeconomic success, too. He zeroed in on people who were prenatally exposed to influenza during the 1918 pandemic. Detailed census data from the 1960s to the 1980s show that members of this group were up to 15 percent less likely to graduate from high school, had among men 5 to 9 percent lower wages (because of disability), and were 15 percent more likely to be poor compared with siblings and others of their generation, Almond reports in the August Journal of Political Economy. Policies aimed at improving prenatal health could accordingly have a strong effect on future earnings, he notes.
This article was originally published with the title "Womb Woes" in Scientific American 295, 4, 34 (October 2006)