The assessment of early life socioeconomic position (SEP) is essential to the tackling of social inequalities in health. Although different indicators capture different SEP dimensions, maternal education is often used as the only indicator in birth cohort research, especially in multi-cohort analyses. Household income, as a direct measure of material resources, is one of the most important indicators, but one that is underused because it is difficult to measure through questionnaires. We propose a method to construct a standardized, cross-cohort comparable income indicator, the "Equivalized Household Income Indicator (EHII)", which measures the equivalized disposable household income, using external data from the pan-European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EUSILC) surveys, and data from the cohorts. We apply this method to four studies, Piccolipiù and NINFEA from Italy and ELFE and EDEN from France, comparing the distribution of EHII with other SEP-related variables available in the cohorts, and estimating the association between EHII and child body mass index (BMI). We found that basic parental and household characteristics may be used, with a fairly good performance, to predict the household income. We observed a strong correlation between EHII and both the self-reported income, whenever available, and other individual socioeconomic-related variables, and an inverse association with child BMI. EHII could contribute to improving research on social inequalities in health, in particular in the context of European birth cohort collaborative studies.
Keywords: birth cohorts; children; income; socioeconomic position.