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The Effect of Maternal Depression and Substance Abuse on Child Human Capital Development

  • Richard G. Frank
  • Ellen Meara
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    Recent models of human capital formation represent a synthesis of the human capital approach and a life cycle view of human development that is grounded in neuroscience (Heckman 2007). This model of human development, the stability of the home and parental mental health can have notable impacts on skill development in children that may affect the stock of human capital in adults (Knudsen, Heckman et al. 2006; Heckman 2007). We study effects of maternal depression and substance abuse on children born to mothers in the initial cohort of the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), a national household survey of high school students aged 14-22 in 1979. We follow 1587 children aged 1-5 in 1987, observing them throughout childhood and into high school. We employ a variety of methods to identify the effect of maternal depression and substance abuse on child behavioral, cognitive, and educational related outcomes. We find no evidence that maternal symptoms of depression affect contemporaneous cognitive scores in children. However, maternal depression symptoms have a moderately large effect on child behavioral problems. These findings suggest that the social benefits of effective behavioral health interventions may be understated. Based on evidence linking early life outcomes to later well-being, efforts to prevent and/or treat mental and addictive disorders in mothers and other women of childbearing age have the potential to improve outcomes of their children not only early in life, but throughout the life cycle.

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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15314.

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    Date of creation: Sep 2009
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15314
    Note: HC HE
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    1. Flavio Cunha & James J. Heckman & Lance Lochner & Dimitriy V. Masterov, 2005. "Interpreting the Evidence on Life Cycle Skill Formation," NBER Working Papers 11331, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Susan L. Ettner & Richard G. Frank & Ronald C. Kessler, 1997. "The Impact of psychiatric disorders on labor market outcomes," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 51(1), pages 64-81, October.
    3. Susan L. Ettner & Richard G. Frank & Ronald C. Kessler, 1997. "The Impact of Psychiatric Disorders on Labor Market Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 5989, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Pinka Chatterji & Sara Markowitz, 2000. "The Impact of Maternal Alcohol and Illicit Drug Use on Children's Behavior Problems: Evidence from the Children of the National Longitudinal Survey..," NBER Working Papers 7692, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Heckman, James J., 2007. "The Economics, Technology and Neuroscience of Human Capability Formation," IZA Discussion Papers 2875, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Janet Currie & Mark Stabile, 2007. "Mental Health in Childhood and Human Capital," NBER Working Papers 13217, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. James Heckman & Flavio Cunha, 2007. "The Technology of Skill Formation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 31-47, May.
    8. Currie, Janet & Madrian, Brigitte C., 1999. "Health, health insurance and the labor market," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 50, pages 3309-3416 Elsevier.
    9. Currie, Janet & Thomas, Duncan, 1999. "Does Head Start help hispanic children?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 74(2), pages 235-262, November.
    10. James J. Heckman & Jora Stixrud & Sergio Urzua, 2006. "The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior," NBER Working Papers 12006, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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