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Booms, Busts, and Babies' Health

Rajeev Dehejia and Adriana Lleras-Muney

No 250, Working Papers from Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing.

Abstract: This paper documents a counter-cyclical pattern in the health of children, and examines whether this pattern is due to selection among women choosing to give birth or to behavioral changes. We study the relationship between the unemployment rate at the time of a baby?s conception and parental characteristics, parental behaviors, and babies? health. Using national data from the Natality Files from 1975 onward, we find that babies conceived in times of high unemployment have a reduced incidence of low and very low birth weight, fewer congenital malformations, and a reduced rate of post-neonatal mortality. These health improvements are attributable both to selection (changes in the type of mothers that conceive during recessions) and to changes in behavior during recessions. Black mothers tend to be higher socio-economic status (as measured by education and marital status) in times of high unemployment, whereas white mothers are less educated. Health behaviors also appear to improve among all pregnant women, although we cannot reject the hypothesis that all health improvements among black women are due to selection.

JEL-codes: E24 E32 I12 J13 J15 R23 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2004-03
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