Prenatal Exposure to Harmful Health Behaviors and Human Capital Development

Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Exhibit Hall C (Marriott Wardman Park Hotel)

Presenter: Julia Dennett

Substances such as tobacco and alcohol present clear and substantial health risks to users. In addition to these direct effects, researchers speculate that there may also be short- and long-term impacts on children who are exposed to harmful health behaviors while in utero. This study investigates the effects of prenatal exposures to harmful health behaviors on health and human capital development over the life course.

The primary empirical issue that arises when examining the relationship between maternal health behaviors and child outcomes is the endogeneity of maternal substance use: women who smoke or drink while pregnant are likely to vary in other dimensions as well. To address this endogeneity issue, I generate plausibly exogenous variation in maternal health behaviors; for example, I relate harmful health behaviors during pregnancy to changes in state excise taxes over the mother’s life course. I use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and other sources, and focus on outcomes related to health, development, and human capital. Finally, I consider the policy implications of the analysis, including the optimal taxation of health behaviors.