Socioeconomic inequalities in the health of adults have been largely attributed to lifestyle inequalities. The cognitive development (CD) and emotional health (EH) of the child provides a basis for many of the health-related behaviours which are observed in adulthood. There has been relatively little attention paid to the way CD and EH are transmitted in the foetal and childhood periods, even though these provide a foundation for subsequent socioeconomic inequalities in adult health. The Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy (MUSP) is a large, prospective, pre-birth cohort study which enrolled 8556 pregnant women at their first clinic visit over the period 1981-1983. These mothers (and their children) have been followed up at intervals until 14 years after the birth. The socioeconomic status of the child was measured using maternal age, family income, and marital status and the grandfathers' occupational status. Measures of child CD and child EH were obtained at 5 and 14 years of age. Child smoking at 14 years of age was also determined. Family income was related to all measures of child CD and EH and smoking, independently of all other indicators of the socioeconomic status of the child. In addition, the grandfathers' occupational status was independently related to child CD (at 5 and 14 years of age). Children from socioeconomically disadvantaged families (previous generations' socioeconomic status as well as current socioeconomic status) begin their lives with a poorer platform of health and a reduced capacity to benefit from the economic and social advances experienced by the rest of society.