The Costs of Low Birth Weight

80 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2004 Last revised: 13 Feb 2010

See all articles by Douglas Almond

Douglas Almond

Columbia University - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Kenneth Y. Chay

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

David Lee

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: June 2004

Abstract

Birth weight has emerged as the leading indicator of infant health and welfare and the central focus of infant health policy. This is because low birth weight (LBW) infants experience severe health and developmental difficulties that can impose enormous costs on society. But would the prevention of LBW generate equally sizable cost savings and health improvements? Estimates of the return to LBW-prevention from cross-sectional associations may be biased by omitted variables that cannot be influenced by policy, such as genetic factors. To address this, we compare the hospital costs, health at birth, and infant mortality rates between heavier and lighter infants from all twin pairs born in the United States. We also examine the effect of maternal smoking during pregnancy the leading risk factor for LBW in the United States on health among singleton births after controlling for detailed background characteristics. Both analyses imply substantially smaller effects of LBW than previously thought, suggesting two possibilities: 1) existing estimates overstate the true costs and consequences of LBW by at least a factor of four and by as much as a factor of 20; or 2) different LBW-preventing interventions have different health and cost consequences, implying that policy efforts that presume a single return to reducing LBW will necessarily be suboptimal.

Suggested Citation

Almond, Douglas Vincent and Chay, Kenneth Y. and Lee, David S., The Costs of Low Birth Weight (June 2004). NBER Working Paper No. w10552. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=556540

Douglas Vincent Almond (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Economics ( email )

420 W. 118th Street
International Affairs Building, MC 3308
New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-3239 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Kenneth Y. Chay

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics ( email )

549 Evans Hall #3880
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
United States
510-643-8596 (Phone)
510-642-0638 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

David S. Lee

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics ( email )

Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
United States
510-642-4628 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
55
Abstract Views
1,363
rank
367,505
PlumX Metrics