From Home to Hospital: The Evolution of Childbirth in the United States, 1927-1940

Melissa A. Thomasson, Jaret Treber

NBER Working Paper No. 10873
Issued in November 2004
NBER Program(s):Health Economics, Development of the American Economy

This paper examines the shift in childbirth from home to hospital that occurred in the United States in the early twentieth century. Using a panel of city-level data over the period 1927-1940, we examine the shift of childbirth from home to hospital and analyze the impact of medical care on maternal mortality. Results suggest that increased operative intervention on the part of physicians and a resultant greater risk of infection increased maternal mortality prior to the introduction of sulfa drugs in 1937. However, the introduction of sulfa enabled doctors to reduce maternal mortality by enabling them to do potentially life-saving procedures (such as cesareans) without the risk of subsequent infection. Regressions estimated separately by race suggest that the impact of medical care on maternal mortality differed for blacks and whites. Relative to whites, hospitals posed a greater risk for black mothers prior to the availability of sulfa drugs in 1937, and were less beneficial for them afterwards, suggesting that blacks may have received lower quality medical care.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w10873

Published: Thomasson, Melissa A. & Treber, Jaret, 2008. "From home to hospital: The evolution of childbirth in the United States, 1928-1940," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 76-99, January.

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