Inside the War on Poverty: The Impact of Food Stamps on Birth Outcomes
This paper evaluates the health impact of a signature initiative of the War on Poverty: the roll out of the modern Food Stamp Program (FSP) during the 1960s and early 1970s. Using variation in the month the FSP began operating in each U.S. county, we find that pregnancies exposed to the FSP three months prior to birth yielded deliveries with increased birth weight, with the largest gains at the lowest birth weights. These impacts are evident with difference-in-difference models and event study analyses. Estimated impacts are robust to inclusion of county fixed effects, time fixed effects, measures of other federal transfer spending, state by year fixed effects, and county-specific linear time trends. We also find that the FSP rollout leads to small, but statistically insignificant, improvements in neonatal infant mortality. We conclude that the sizeable increase in income from Food Stamp benefits improved birth outcomes for both whites and African Americans, with larger impacts for births to African American mothers.
We would like to thank Justin McCrary for providing the Chay-Greenstone-McCrary geography crosswalk and Karen Norberg for advice on cause of death codes. This work was supported by a USDA Food Assistance Research Grant (awarded by Joint Center for Poverty Research at Northwestern University and University of Chicago), USDA FANRP Project 235 "Impact of Food Stamps and WIC on Health and Long Run Economic Outcomes", and the Russell Sage Foundation. We also thank Ken Chay, Janet Currie, Ted Joyce, Bob LaLonde, Doug Miller and seminar participants at the Harris School, Dartmouth, MIT, LSE, UC Irvine, IIES (Stockholm University), the NBER Summer Institute, and the SF Fed Summer Institute for helpful comments. Alan Barreca, Rachel Henry Currans-Sheehan, Elizabeth Munnich, Ankur Patel and Charles Stoecker provided excellent research assistance, and Usha Patel entered the regionally-aggregated vital statistics data for 1960-75. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Douglas Almond & Hilary W. Hoynes & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2011. "Inside the War on Poverty: The Impact of Food Stamps on Birth Outcomes," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(2), pages 387-403, December. citation courtesy of