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The Costs of Low Birth Weight

  • Douglas Almond
  • Kenneth Y. Chay
  • David S. Lee

Low birth weight (LBW) infants experience severe health and developmental difficulties that can impose large costs on society. However, estimates of the return to LBW-prevention from cross-sectional associations may be biased by omitted variables, such as genetic factors. To address this, we compare the hospital costs, health at birth, and infant mortality rates between heavier and lighter infants from all twin pairs born in the United States. We also examine the effect of maternal smoking during pregnancy-the leading risk factor for LBW in the United States-on health among singleton births after controlling for detailed background characteristics. Both analyses imply substantially smaller effects of LBW per se than previously thought, suggesting two possibilities: 1) existing estimates overstate the true costs and consequences of LBW by at least a factor of four and by as much as a factor of twenty; or 2) different LBW-preventing interventions have different health and cost consequences, implying that policy efforts that presume a single return to reducing LBW will be suboptimal. © 2005 MIT Press

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Article provided by MIT Press in its journal The Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Volume (Year): 120 (2005)
Issue (Month): 3 (August)
Pages: 1031-1083

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Handle: RePEc:tpr:qjecon:v:120:y:2005:i:3:p:1031-1083
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://mitpress.mit.edu/journals/

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  1. Rosemary Hyson & Janet Currie, 1999. "Is the Impact of Health Shocks Cushioned by Socioeconomic Status? The Case of Low Birthweight," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 245-250, May.
  2. Currie, Janet & Cole, Nancy, 1993. "Welfare and Child Health: The Link between AFDC Participation and Birth Weight," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 971-85, September.
  3. Janet Currie & Enrico Moretti, 2003. "Mother'S Education And The Intergenerational Transmission Of Human Capital: Evidence From College Openings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1495-1532, November.
  4. Michael Grossman & Theodore J. Joyce, 1988. "Unobservables, Pregnancy Resolutions, and Birthweight Production Functions in New York City," NBER Working Papers 2746, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Hanratty, Maria J, 1996. "Canadian National Health Insurance and Infant Health," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(1), pages 276-84, March.
  6. Rosenzweig, Mark R. & Wolpin, Kenneth I., 1991. "Inequality at birth : The scope for policy intervention," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1-2), pages 205-228, October.
  7. Currie, Janet & Gruber, Jonathan, 1996. "Saving Babies: The Efficacy and Cost of Recent Changes in the Medicaid Eligibility of Pregnant Women," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(6), pages 1263-96, December.
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