IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Maternal Health and the Baby Boom

  • Claudia Olivetti


    (Department of Economics, Boston University)

  • Stefania Albanesi


    (Federal Reserve Bank of New York)

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.

To our knowledge, this item is not available for download. To find whether it is available, there are three options:
1. Check below under "Related research" whether another version of this item is available online.
2. Check on the provider's web page whether it is in fact available.
3. Perform a search for a similarly titled item that would be available.

Paper provided by Boston University - Department of Economics in its series Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series with number WP2010-044.

in new window

Length: pages
Date of creation: Jan 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bos:wpaper:wp2010-044
Contact details of provider: Postal:
270 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215

Phone: 617-353-4389
Fax: 617-353-4449
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Jeremy Greenwood & Ananth Seshadri & Guillaume Vandenbroucke, 2005. "The Baby Boom and Baby Bust," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 183-207, March.
  2. Stefania Albanesi & Claudia Olivetti, 2013. "Maternal Health and the Baby Boom," Working Papers 2013-003, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
  3. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2002. "The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women's Career and Marriage Decisions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(4), pages 730-770, August.
  4. Goldin, Claudia & Kuziemko, Ilyana & Katz, Lawrence, 2006. "The Homecoming of American College Women: The Reversal of the College Gender Gap," Scholarly Articles 2962611, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  5. Linda Berry, 1977. "Age and parity influences on maternal mortality: United States, 1919–1969," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 14(3), pages 297-310, August.
  6. Stefania Albanesi & Claudia Olivetti, 2016. "Gender Roles and Medical Progress," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 124(3), pages 650 - 695.
  7. Cutler, David & Lleras-Muney, Adriana & Deaton, Angus, 2006. "The Determinants of Mortality," Scholarly Articles 2640588, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  8. Hoyt Bleakley, 2007. "Disease and Development: Evidence from Hookworm Eradication in the American South," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(1), pages 73-117.
  9. Moehling, Carolyn M. & Thomasson, Melissa A., 2012. "The Political Economy of Saving Mothers and Babies: The Politics of State Participation in the Sheppard-Towner Program," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 72(01), pages 75-103, March.
  10. Yishay Maoz & Moshe Hazan & Matthias Doepke, 2008. "The Baby Boom and World War II: A Macroeconomic Analysis," 2008 Meeting Papers 668, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  11. Gary S. Becker & Robert J. Barro, 1988. "A Reformulation of the Economic Theory of Fertility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 103(1), pages 1-25.
  12. Samuel H. Preston & Michael R. Haines, 1991. "Fatal Years: Child Mortality in Late Nineteenth-Century America," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number pres91-1, September.
  13. Seema Jayachandran & Adriana Lleras-Muney & Kimberly V. Smith, 2009. "Modern Medicine and the 20th Century Decline in Mortality: Evidence on the Impact of Sulfa Drugs," NBER Working Papers 15089, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Rodrigo R. Soares, 2003. "Mortality Reductions, Educational Attainment, and Fertility Choice," Development and Comp Systems 0312006, EconWPA.
  15. Seema Jayachandran & Adriana Lleras-Muney, 2008. "Life Expectancy and Human Capital Investments: Evidence From Maternal Mortality Declines," NBER Working Papers 13947, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Marcus Stanley, 2003. "College Education and the Midcentury GI Bills," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(2), pages 671-708.
  17. Daron Acemoglu & David H. Autor & David Lyle, 2002. "Women, War and Wages: The Effect of Female Labor Supply on the Wage Structure at Mid-Century," NBER Working Papers 9013, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Martha J. Bailey & William J. Collins, 2009. "Did Improvements in Household Technology Cause the Baby Boom? Evidence from Electrification, Appliance Diffusion, and the Amish," NBER Working Papers 14641, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Hoyt Bleakley & Fabian Lange, 2009. "Chronic Disease Burden and the Interaction of Education, Fertility, and Growth," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 52-65, February.
  20. Larry E. Jones & Alice Schoonbroodt, 2010. "Complements Versus Substitutes And Trends In Fertility Choice In Dynastic Models," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 51(3), pages 671-699, 08.
  21. Matthias Doepke, 2002. "Child Mortality and Fertility Decline: Does the Barro-Becker Model Fit the Facts?," UCLA Economics Working Papers 824, UCLA Department of Economics.
  22. Fernando Alvarez, 1999. "Social Mobility: The Barro-Becker Children Meet the Laitner-Loury Dynasties," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 2(1), pages 65-103, January.
  23. Rick Geddes & Dean Lueck, 2002. "The Gains From Self-Ownership and the Expansion of Women's Rights," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1079-1092, September.
  24. Goldin, Claudia D, 1991. "The Role of World War II in the Rise of Women's Employment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(4), pages 741-56, September.
  25. Thomasson, Melissa A. & Treber, Jaret, 2008. "From home to hospital: The evolution of childbirth in the United States, 1928-1940," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 76-99, January.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bos:wpaper:wp2010-044. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Gillian Gurish)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.