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Maternal Stress and Child Outcomes: Evidence from Siblings

  • Anna Aizer
  • Laura Stroud
  • Stephen Buka

We study how maternal stress affects offspring outcomes. We find that in-utero exposure to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol negatively affects offspring cognition, health and educational attainment. These findings are based on comparisons between siblings which limits variation to short-lived shocks and controls for unobserved differences between mothers that could bias estimates. Our results are consistent with recent experimental results in the neurobiological literature linking exogenous exposure to stress hormones in-utero with declines in offspring cognitive, behavioral and motor development. Moreover, we find that not only are mothers with low levels of human capital characterized by higher and more variable cortisol levels, but that the negative impact of elevated cortisol is greater for them. These results suggest that prenatal stress may play a role in the intergenerational persistence of poverty.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18422.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18422.

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Date of creation: Sep 2012
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18422
Note: CH ED HE LS PE
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  1. Douglas Almond & Lena Edlund & Mårten Palme, 2009. "Chernobyl's Subclinical Legacy: Prenatal Exposure to Radioactive Fallout and School Outcomes in Sweden," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 124(4), pages 1729-1772, November.
  2. Emilia Simeonova, 2009. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind? The Impact of Natural Disasters on Pregnancy Outcomes," CESifo Working Paper Series 2814, CESifo Group Munich.
  3. Rablen, Matthew D. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2007. "Mortality and Immortality," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 785, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  4. Douglas Almond & Lena Edlund & Hongbin Li & Junsen Zhang, 2007. "Long-Term Effects Of The 1959-1961 China Famine: Mainland China and Hong Kong," NBER Working Papers 13384, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Currie, Janet & Rossin-Slater, Maya, 2013. "Weathering the storm: Hurricanes and birth outcomes," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 487-503.
  6. Adriana Camacho, 2008. "Stress and Birth Weight: Evidence from Terrorist Attacks," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 511-15, May.
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