NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Minimum Drinking Age Laws and Infant Health Outcomes

Tara Watson, Angela Fertig

NBER Working Paper No. 14118
Issued in June 2008
NBER Program(s):   CH   HE   PE

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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Published: Fertig, Angela R. & Watson, Tara, 2009. "Minimum drinking age laws and infant health outcomes," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 737-747, May.

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