Journal Article

Birth size, school performance and family social position: a study of 650,000 children

Silventoinen, K., Luukkonen, J., Myrskylä, M., Martikainen, P.
Pediatric Research, 1–10 (2023)
Open Access


Background: Low birth weight (BW) is associated with lower cognitive functioning, but less is known of these associations across the full range of the BW distribution and its components. We analyzed how BW, birth length (BL) and birth ponderal index (BPI, kg/m3) are associated with school performance and how childhood family social position modifies these associations.
Methods: Medical birth records of all Finnish children born in 1987–1997 were linked to school performance records at 16 years of age (N = 642,425). We used population averaged and within-siblings fixed-effects linear regression models.
Results: BL showed a linear and BW a curvilinear association with school performance whereas for BPI the association was weak. The strongest association was found for BL explaining 0.08% of the variation in school performance in boys and 0.14% in girls. Demographic, gestational and social factors partly explained these associations. Similar but weaker associations were found within sibships. The association of BL with school performance was stronger at lower levels of family social position.
Conclusion: BL shows a linear association with school performance and can explain more school performance variation than BW. At the population level, BL can offer useful information on intrauterine environmental factors relevant for cognitive performance.
Impact: Birth length is linearly associated with school performance in late adolescence and explains a larger proportion of school performance variation than birth weight.
The association between birth length and school performance is stronger in families with lower socio-economic position.
At the population level, birth length can offer information on the intrauterine environment relevant for later cognitive performance.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.