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On the Value of Birth Weight


  • Damian Clarke

    (Universidad de Santiago de Chile)

  • Sonia Oreffice

    (University of Surrey)

  • Climent Quintana-Domeque

    (University of Oxford and St Edmund Hall)


A large body of evidence documents the educational and labor market returns to birth weight, which are reflected in investments in large social safety net programs targeting birth weight and early life health. However, there is no direct evidence on the private valuation of birth weight. In this paper we estimate the willingness to pay (WTP) for birth weight in the US. Using a series of discrete choice experiments, we find that individuals are, on average, willing to pay $1.44 for each additional gram of birth weight. This marginal WTP is particularly high at low birth weights, and turns negative at higher weights. The WTP among parents is higher than among non-parents, and particularly than those who do not plan to have children. Nonetheless, a series of calculations suggest that even the parental WTP for birth weight falls short of the inferred public WTP from large social safety net programs, and is lower than the expected present value of birth weight in the labor market for a US-born child. We present a parsimonious model which is able to explain the different WTP by parental status and the discrepancy between our estimated private valuation and the returns in the labor market: Parents may underestimate the value of birth weight, opening the door for new policy interventions to increase health at birth via informational campaigns.

Suggested Citation

  • Damian Clarke & Sonia Oreffice & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2017. "On the Value of Birth Weight," Working Papers 2017-018, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
  • Handle: RePEc:hka:wpaper:2017-018
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Damian Clarke & Sonia Oreffice & Climent Quintana‐Domeque, 2019. "The demand for season of birth," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 34(5), pages 707-723, August.
    2. Justin Cook, C. & Fletcher, Jason M., 2015. "Understanding heterogeneity in the effects of birth weight on adult cognition and wages," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 107-116.
    3. Yonatan Ben-Shalom & Robert A. Moffitt & John Karl Scholz, "undated". "An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Anti-Poverty Programs in the United States," Mathematica Policy Research Reports cfc848ed6ab647bcb38ab47bb, Mathematica Policy Research.
    4. Dalton Conley & Kate Strully & Neil G. Bennett, 2003. "A Pound of Flesh or Just Proxy? Using Twin Differences to Estimate the Effect of Birth Weight on Life Chances," NBER Working Papers 9901, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Victor Hugo de Oliveira & Ines Lee & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2021. "Natural Disasters and Early Human Development: Hurricane Catarina and Infant Health in Brazil," Working Papers 2021-005, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    2. Clarke, Damian & Cortés, Gustavo & Vergara, Diego, 2017. "Growing Together: Assessing Equity and Effciency in an Early-Life Health Program in Chile," Research Department working papers 1139, CAF Development Bank Of Latinamerica.
    3. Damian Clarke & Gustavo Cortés Méndez & Diego Vergara Sepúlveda, 2020. "Growing together: assessing equity and efficiency in a prenatal health program," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 33(3), pages 883-956, July.
    4. Kamila Cygan-Rehm & Krzysztof Karbownik, 2020. "The Effects of Incentivizing Early Prenatal Care on Infant Health," NBER Working Papers 28116, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item


    discrete choice experiments; early life health; value of health; willingness to pay;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C90 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - General
    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth

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