Model Uncertainty Over the Life Course: The Case of Early Health and Socioeconomic Attainment
Robert G. White, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Lane Burgette, Duke University
Identifying the pathways that link early health to socioeconomic attainment remains an elusive goal across the social and health sciences. Although birth cohort studies often have extensive information for examining the life course, their results point to conflicting pathways depending on the hypothesized causal ordering of exposures linking health with subsequent outcomes. This paper introduces a method that accounts for model uncertainty in studying health over the life course. We first demonstrate the sensitivity of estimates of adolescent cognition among a set of structural equation models that vary in their hypothesized indirect and direct pathways relating birth weight and socioeconomic attainment. We then implement a model averaging approach to generate estimates of adolescent cognition and behavioral outcomes which are robust to model specification. The results highlight the sensitivity of model estimates to the secondary indirect effects in life course studies and the importance of non-cognitive pathways over the life course.