Unemployment and Infant Health: Times-Series Evidence from the State of Tennessee

Theodore J. Joyce, Naci H. Mocan

NBER Working Paper No. 3694 (Also Reprint No. r1792)
Issued in May 1991
NBER Program(s):Health Economics

The relationship between unemployment and health continues to absorb social scientists. The primary reason is the potential significance of an association. If a substantial deterioration in aggregate health is related to economic downturns, then the cost of a recession may be much greater than the foregone output. This paper investigates the aggregate time-series relationship between unemployment and low birthweight with monthly data from the state of Tennessee from 1970 through 1989. The study differs from previous work in that we decompose the unemployment rate into its structural and cyclical components. Moreover, we use vector autoregressions to test the reduced form relationship between unemployment and low birthweight. The well-defined exogeneity of unemployment and the lag length restriction imposed by the duration of a pregnancy strengthens the specification considerably. We fail to find a relationship between unemployment and low birthweight. This basic finding remains unchanged irrespective of whether we test structural or cyclical unemployment, or whether we use total or race-specific rates of low birthweight.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w3694

Published: Journal of Human Resources, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 185-203 (Winter 1993). citation courtesy of

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