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The Developmental Origins of Health Inequality

Health and Inequality

ISBN: 978-1-78190-553-1, eISBN: 978-1-78190-554-8

ISSN: 1049-2585

Publication date: 30 December 2013


In this chapter, I review recent evidence on the developmental origins of health inequality. I discuss the origins of the education-health gradient, the long-term costs caused by early life adversity, and how early life experiences affect the biology of the body. Additionally, I provide complementary evidence on enrichment interventions which can at least partially compensate for these gaps. I highlight emerging lines of scientific inquiry which are likely to have a significant impact on the field. I argue that, while the evidence that early life conditions have long-term effects is now uncontroversial, the literature needs to be expanded both in a theoretical and empirical direction. On the one hand, a model linking early life origins to ageing needs to be developed; on the other hand, a better understanding of the mechanisms – both biological and socioeconomic – is required, in order to design more effective interventions.




This chapter draws in part on my work with James Heckman, to whom I am very grateful for many stimulating discussions on the developmental origins of health and for continuous support and encouragement. The research was supported in part by NICHD 1R01HD54702, and a European Research Council grant hosted by University College Dublin, DEVHEALTH 269874.


Conti, G. (2013), "The Developmental Origins of Health Inequality", Health and Inequality (Research on Economic Inequality, Vol. 21), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 285-309.



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