Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Population Association of America Conference

Papers and sessions from this event to take place in late March are up on the following website. There is an immense amount of interesting material up here including drafts of papers. One session that will be of interest to people looking at early conditions and later health is linked here. The usual caveat that conference papers represent earlier stage work than published peer review papers should apply but this is a provocative finding worth looking at in the context of the natural experiment literature.

The 1918 U.S. Influenza Pandemic as a Natural Experiment, Revisited

Ryan P. Brown, Duke University

Douglas Almond's use of the 1918 U.S. influenza pandemic as a natural experiment led to the seminal works on the subject of in utero health's impact on later life outcomes. The identification strength of his work, though, is driven by the inherent natural experiment supposition of random assignment. By using data from the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Censuses, this study investigates this keystone assumption and shows that the families of the "treatment" cohort were significantly less literate and economically prosperous than the families of the "control" group. Additionally, when proxies for childhood environment are added to Almond’s analyses, his findings are appreciably reduced in magnitude and significance. This research implies that failing to control for the first order effect of parent's education and wealth on a child's long-run outcomes, eliminates Almond's ability to use the 1918 U.S. influenza pandemic to make direct inferences regarding fetal health's impact on long-term wellbeing.

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