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Minimum Drinking Age Laws and Infant Health Outcomes


  • Tara Watson
  • Angela Fertig


Alcohol policies have potentially far-reaching impacts on risky sexual behavior, prenatal health behaviors, and subsequent outcomes for infants. We examine whether changes in minimum drinking age (MLDA) laws affect the likelihood of poor birth outcomes. Using data from the National Vital Statistics (NVS) for the years 1978-88, we find that a drinking age of 18 is associated with adverse outcomes among births to young mothers -- including higher incidences of low birth weight and premature birth, but not congenital malformations. The effects are largest among black women. We find suggestive evidence from both the NVS and the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY) that the MLDA laws alter the composition of births that occur. In states with lenient drinking laws, young black mothers are more likely to have used alcohol 12 months prior to the birth of their child and less likely to report paternal information on the birth certificate. We suspect that lenient drinking laws generate poor birth outcomes because they increase the number of unplanned pregnancies.

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  • Tara Watson & Angela Fertig, 2008. "Minimum Drinking Age Laws and Infant Health Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 14118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14118
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    Cited by:

    1. Carrell, Scott E. & Hoekstra, Mark & West, James E., 2011. "Does drinking impair college performance? Evidence from a regression discontinuity approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(1-2), pages 54-62, February.
    2. Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2014. "Does grief transfer across generations? In-utero deaths and child outcomes," Working Papers 201405, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    3. Stephanie Hinke Kessler Scholder & George L. Wehby & Sarah Lewis & Luisa Zuccolo, 2014. "Alcohol Exposure In Utero and Child Academic Achievement," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 0(576), pages 634-667, May.
    4. Inna Cintina, 2015. "The effect of minimum drinking age laws on pregnancy, fertility, and alcohol consumption," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 13(4), pages 1003-1022, December.
    5. Hope Corman & Dhaval M. Dave & Nancy E. Reichman, 2017. "Evolution of the Infant Health Production Function," NBER Working Papers 24131, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Almond, Douglas & Currie, Janet & Herrmann, Mariesa, 2012. "From infant to mother: Early disease environment and future maternal health," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 475-483.
    7. repec:eee:jhecon:v:53:y:2017:i:c:p:131-155 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Janet Currie, 2011. "Inequality at Birth: Some Causes and Consequences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(3), pages 1-22, May.
    9. Black, Sandra & Bütikofer, Aline & Devereux, Paul J. & Salvanes, Kjell G, 2013. "This Is Only a Test? Long-Run Impacts of Prenatal Exposure to Radioactive Fallout," CEPR Discussion Papers 9443, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    10. Christopher Carpenter & Carlos Dobkin, 2011. "The Minimum Legal Drinking Age and Public Health," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(2), pages 133-156, Spring.
    11. Jason M. Lindo & Peter Siminski & Oleg Yerokhin, 2016. "Breaking The Link Between Legal Access To Alcohol And Motor Vehicle Accidents: Evidence From New South Wales," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(7), pages 908-928, July.
    12. Ji Yan, 2013. "Prenatal Smoking Cessation and Infant Health: Evidence from Sibling Births," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 299-323, October.
    13. Janet Currie, 2011. "Ungleichheiten bei der Geburt: Einige Ursachen und Folgen," Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 12(s1), pages 42-65, May.
    14. Alan I. Barreca & Marianne E. Page, 2012. "A Pint for a Pound? Reevaluating the Relationship Between Minimum Drinking Age Laws and Birth Outcomes," Working Papers 1220, Tulane University, Department of Economics.
    15. Grönqvist, Erik & Norén, Anna & Sjögren, Anna & Svaleryd, Helena, 2016. "Sober mom, healthy baby? Effects of brief alcohol interventions in Swedish maternity care," Working Paper Series 2016:16, IFAU - Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy.
    16. Ji Yan, 2011. "Does the Minimum Cigarette Purchase Age of 21 Protect Young Mothers from Cigarettes, Help Their Babies?," Working Papers 11-17, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University.
    17. Cuffe, Harold E. & Gibbs, Christopher G., 2017. "The effect of payday lending restrictions on liquor sales," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 85(C), pages 132-145.
    18. repec:pit:wpaper:356 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. Jonathan H. Cantor & Brady P. Horn & Johanna Catherine Maclean, 2013. "Recessions and Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment," NBER Working Papers 19115, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth

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