Upward health mobility can elude some minorities and vulnerable Americans

Jason Fletcher

Children in families characterized as minorities, those without health insurance, or those with low socioeconomic status experience less upward health mobility and greater downward health mobility relative to their more advantaged peers, according to research by La Follette School Professor Jason Fletcher and Katie Jajtner, a postdoctoral associate at UW–Madison’s Center for Demography of Health and Aging.

Fletcher and Jajtner used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 to analyze child development through the lens of intergenerational mobility, or the degree to which children’s outcomes diverge from or follow those of their parents.

Intergenerational mobility is often used in studies of socioeconomic status to measure whether children have equal opportunity to flourish. Their research uses these tools to inquire about children’s equal opportunity to achieve healthy lives and was published in the October issue of Health Affairs—a theme issue on children’s health.

Fletcher and Jajtner also found that community characteristics may shape health mobility. For example, children growing up in places with high proportions of uninsured residents are less likely to experience upward health mobility and more likely to experience downward health mobility.

“Both individual and community characteristics help shape health mobility,” said Fletcher. “These descriptive findings may allow new insights into ways in which children’s health can be decoupled from their circumstances at birth.”

Fletcher also is a professor in the Departments of Sociology, Agricultural and Applied Economics, and Population Health Sciences. In addition, he serves as director of the Center for Demography of Health and Aging and the Wisconsin Research Data Center.