NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 15, 2004

Women who conceive during periods of high unemployment tend to have healthier babies, according to a study by Rajeev Dehejia and Adriana Lleras-Muney. The authors analyzed data from California birth certificates and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. They concluded:

  • Babies conceived during times of high unemployment are less likely to experience low to very low birth weights; each percent increase in unemployment is associated with one-quarter to one-half percent fewer low birth weight babies.
  • Babies of African-Americans experience a 3.6 to 4.8 percent reduction in congenital defects for each percentage point increase in unemployment.
  • Pregnant black women are less likely to smoke and drink when the unemployment rate increases; but the proportion of white mothers who does so increases.
  • The number of prenatal care visits increases for both black and white mothers when the unemployment rate increases; the proportion of mothers with inadequate prenatal care decreases.

One of the likely reasons for better prenatal care is that moms who are not working have more time to focus on health care habits, doctor visits, etc., say the authors.

  • The health outcome for babies is especially significant for black women, as less-educated black mothers are less likely to have babies during recessions, thereby increasing the average health outcomes for all black babies.
  • In contrast, less educated white women are more likely to conceive during recessions, reducing the average health outcomes for white babies.

Other findings indicate that in both racial groups, health outcomes improve dramatically for less-educated mothers, and that more-educated mothers experience declines in health outcomes, say the authors.

Source: "Even Babies Prefer Moms at Home," John L. Swan Library of Family and Culture, Vol. 18, No. 10, October 2004; based upon: Rajeev Dehejia and Adriana Lleras-Muney, "Booms, Busts and Babies' Health," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 10122, November 2003.

For working paper


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