Impact of In Utero Exposure to Natural Shocks on Human Capital Formation

Paper Session

Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Hyatt Regency Chicago, Michigan 3
Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: Xiaobo Zhang, Peking University and International Food Policy Research Institute

The Effects of Prenatal Exposure to Temperature Extremes on Birth Outcomes: The Case of China

Xi Chen
,
Yale University
Chih Ming Tan
,
University of North Dakota
Xiaobo Zhang
,
Peking University and International Food Policy Research Institute
Xin Zhang
,
Peking University

Abstract

This paper investigates the effects of prenatal exposure to extreme temperatures on birth outcomes – birth weight, small for gestational age, and birth defects – using nationally representative data from hospitals and clinics in rural China. During the span of our data (i.e., 1991-2000), indoor air conditioning was not widely available and migration was limited, allowing us to address identification issues endemic in the climate change literature related to adaptation and location sorting. We find substantial heterogeneity in the effects of extreme temperature exposure on birth outcomes. In particular, prenatal exposure to extreme cold has much stronger negative effects than exposure to extreme heat, suggesting a selection effect associated with extreme hot weather.

Heat Waves at Conception and Later Life Outcomes

Joshua Wilde
,
University of Southern Florida
Benedicte Apouey
,
Paris School of Economics
Toni Jung
,
University of California-Davis

Abstract

This paper explores whether heat waves at conception, while in utero, or after birth cause better educational and health outcomes as adults. Using Census and DHS data from sub-Saharan Africa, we show that individuals conceived during heat waves have higher educational attainment and literacy, fewer disabilities, and lower child mortality. However, we find no effect of temperature at other times in utero. We then explore several channels through which this effect may occur, including heat-induced changes in sexual behavior, differences in parental characteristics, and intensified fetal selection. We show that fetal selection is the most likely mechanism driving our result.

Child Health After a Natural Disaster

Elizabeth Frankenberg
,
Duke University
Duncan Thomas
,
Duke University
Jed Friedman
,
World Bank
Nicholas Ingwersen
,
Duke University

Abstract

Research in health and economics suggest that in utero exposure to stress is related to a number of adverse birth outcomes, but there is little evidence of the impact on linear growth, a strong correlate of later life income. Using longitudinal survey data of survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, we investigate whether in utero exposure to stress, as measured by tsunami-induced maternal post-traumatic stress, affected the growth of children born in the aftermath of the tsunami in the critical first five years of their lives. We find evidence that children exposed to high levels of stress beginning in the second trimester experienced reduced growth in the first two years of their lives. We also find evidence that growth reductions largely disappear by age five, which suggests that significant catch-up growth is possible, particularly in the context of pronounced post-disaster reconstruction and economic rehabilitation.

Helping Children Catch Up: Early Life Shocks and the Progresa Experiment

Achyuta Adhvaryu
,
University of Michigan

Abstract

Can investing in children who faced adverse events in early childhood help them catchup? We answer this question using two orthogonal sources of variation – resource avail-ability at birth (local rainfall) and cash incentives for school enrollment – to identify the interaction between early endowments and investments in children. We find that adverse rainfall in the year of birth substantially decreases grade attainment, post-secondary enrollment, and employment outcomes. But children whose families were randomized to receive conditional cash transfers through the Mexican government’s Progresa policy experiment experienced a smaller decline: each additional year of program exposure mitigated more than 20 percent of early disadvantage. Moreover, we show that Progresa’s impacts were heavily concentrated on children who faced poor birth environments; children born during normal rainfall periods essentially showed half the gains in education and no gains in employment due to the cash transfers.
Discussant(s)
Duncan Thomas
,
Duke University
Chih Ming Tan
,
University of North Dakota
Achyuta Adhvaryu
,
University of Michigan
Joshua Wilde
,
University of Southern Florida
JEL Classifications
  • J1 - Demographic Economics