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Mother's Education and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital: Evidence from College Openings


  • Janet Currie
  • Enrico Moretti


We examine the effect of maternal education on birth outcomes using Vital Statistics Natality data for 1970 to 1999. We also assess the importance of four channels through which maternal education may improve birth outcomes: use of prenatal care, smoking, marriage, and fertility. In an effort to account for the endogeneity of educational attainment, we use data about the availability of colleges in the woman's county in her seventeenth year as an instrument for maternal education. We find that higher maternal education improves infant health, as measured by birth weight and gestational age. It also increases the probability that a new mother is married, reduces parity, increases use of prenatal care, and reduces smoking, suggesting that these may be important pathways for the ultimate effect on health. Our results add to the growing body of literature which suggests that estimates of the returns to education which focus only on increases in wages understate the total return.

Suggested Citation

  • Janet Currie & Enrico Moretti, 2003. "Mother's Education and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital: Evidence from College Openings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1495-1532.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:118:y:2003:i:4:p:1495-1532.

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