Cash Transfers before Pregnancy and Infant Health

Recognition Program

Open Access       

Authors: Libertad González and Sofia Trommlerová

Journal of Health Economics, Vol. 83, May, 2022

We estimate the impact of a cash transfer targeting new mothers on their subsequent children's health outcomes at birth. We exploit the unexpected introduction of a generous, universal child benefit in Spain in 2007. Using population-wide, individual-level, high-quality administrative data from birth records and a regression discontinuity approach, we find that women who received the benefit were much less likely to have low-birth-weight children in the future (while their subsequent fertility was unaffected). The overall effect is driven by poor women, unmarried women, and women with low education, and by births taking place relatively soon after the benefit receipt. The €2500 transfer led to a 0.7 percentage-point decline in the fraction of children born under 1500 g in poorer households in the following five years, an 83% reduction. We explore the underlying channels, and find evidence supporting faster intrauterine growth, possibly driven by better maternal health, nutrition, and behaviors. Gestation length, family structure, and parental employment do not seem to play a role. Recent research suggests that targeting pregnant women may be more effective than later interventions (such as cash transfers to families with children), given the strong persistence of fetal health effects. Our results suggest that the impact may be stronger if women are targeted even earlier, before conception.

This paper originally appeared as Barcelona School of Economics Working Paper 1261
This paper is acknowledged by the Barcelona School of Economics Recognition Program