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Maternal Health and the Baby Boom

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  • Stefania Albanesi
  • Claudia Olivetti

Abstract

U.S. fertility rose from a low of 2.27 children for women born in 1908 to a peak of 3.21 children for women born in 1932. It dropped to a new low of 1.74 children for women born in 1949, before stabilizing for subsequent cohorts. We propose a novel explanation for this boom-bust pattern, linking it to the huge improvements in maternal health that started in the mid 1930s. Our hypothesis is that the improvements in maternal health contributed to the mid-twentieth century baby boom and generated a rise in women's human capital, ultimately leading to a decline in desired fertility for subsequent cohorts. To examine this link empirically, we exploit the large cross-state variation in the magnitude of the decline in pregnancy-related mortality and the differential exposure by cohort. We find that the decline in maternal mortality is associated with a rise in fertility for women born between 1921 and 1940, with a rise in college and high school graduation rates for women born in 1933-1950, and with a decline in fertility for women born in 1941-1950. These findings are consistent with a theory of fertility featuring a trade-off between the quality and quantity of children. The analysis provides new insights on the determinants of fertility in the U.S. and other countries that experienced similar improvements in maternal health.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16146.

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Date of creation: Jul 2010
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Publication status: published as “Maternal Health and the Baby Boom,” Quantitative Economics, July 2014, Vol. 5 (2), with Stefania Albanesi.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16146

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  1. Doepke, Matthias & Hazan, Moshe & Maoz, Yishay D, 2008. "The Baby Boom and World War II: A Macroeconomic Analysis," CEPR Discussion Papers 6628, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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Cited by:
  1. Tamura, Robert & Simon, Curtis J., 2012. "Secular fertility declines, baby booms and economic growth: international evidence," MPRA Paper 41669, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Lehmijoki, Ulla & Palokangas, Tapio K., 2011. "The Long-Run Effects of Mortality Decline in Developing Countries," IZA Discussion Papers 5422, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Alice Schoonbroodt & Larry E. Jones, 2010. "Baby Busts and Baby Booms: The Fertility Response to Shocks in Dynastic Models," 2010 Meeting Papers 144, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  4. Michele Tertilt, 2009. "Families as Roommates: Changes in U.S. Household Size from 1850 to 2000," Discussion Papers 09-001, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  5. Dora Costa, 2013. "Health and the Economy in the United States, from 1750 to the Present," NBER Working Papers 19685, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Vandenbroucke, Guillaume, 2011. "Optimal fertility during World War I," MPRA Paper 35709, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  7. Tamura, Robert & Simon, Curtis & Murphy, Kevin M., 2012. "Black and White Fertility, Differential Baby Booms: The Value of Civil Rights," MPRA Paper 40921, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  8. Jeremy Greenwood & Ananth Seshadri & Guillaume Vandenbroucke, 2011. "Measurement Without Theory: A Response to Bailey and Collins," RCER Working Papers 561, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  9. Shannon Seitz & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull & Satoshi Tanaka, 2013. "Sex Ratios and Long-Term Marriage Trends," 2013 Meeting Papers 1349, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  10. Hansen, Casper Worm, 2013. "Life expectancy and human capital: Evidence from the international epidemiological transition," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(6), pages 1142-1152.
  11. Casper Worm Hansen, 2012. "Causes of mortality and development: Evidence from large health shocks in 20th century America," Economics Working Papers 2012-29, School of Economics and Management, University of Aarhus.

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