Past Research: Professor Almond’s research centers on the determinants and consequences of early childhood health; a particular interest is the large gap in birth outcomes between Blacks and Whites in the U.S. Two projects have sought to evaluate the role of public policies in the convergence between Blacks and Whites in infant deaths from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. Almond (with Chay and Greenstone) has investigated whether the elimination of widespread racial segregation in Southern hospitals during this period contributed to the sharp reduction in post-neonatal deaths. This analysis indicated that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which mandated desegregation in institutions receiving federal funds, enabled 5,000 to 7,000 additional Black infants to survive infancy from 1965-1975 and at least 25,000 infants from 1965-2002. These infant mortality benefits are estimated to have generated welfare gains of more than $7 billion (2005$) for 1965-1975 and more than $27 billion for 1965-2002, suggesting that the benefits of the 1960s Civil Rights legislation extended beyond the labor market and were substantially larger than recognized previously. Almond (with Hoynes and Schanzenbach) has also explored additional dimensions of the improvement in birth outcomes from 1965-1975, including increased birth-weight and gestation length. Again, gains were especially large for Black infants, and these improvements occurred during the roll-out of the largest nutrition program in the U.S.—the Food Stamp Program (FSP). Using information on the month each county initiated its FSP, Almond and colleagues found that birth outcomes responded swiftly and positively to FSP implementation. Gains were roughly twice as large among Blacks as among Whites, indicating that this signature initiative of the War on Poverty had substantial health benefits.
Present/Future Research: Almond’s work in progress explores the link between the health improvements described above and subsequent adult health and economic outcomes. The fetal origins hypothesis of Barker posits that adult health may be especially responsive to health experienced early in life, and sudden changes in prenatal health impact later-life cognitive and socioeconomic outcomes. While previous studies in this area have strong identification strategies, the relevance of such linkages for public policy is more directly explored by analyzing the policy-driven improvements of infant health of the 1960s. Indeed, such long-term effects would appear to exist for cohorts born during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and therefore experiencing better average fetal and infant health. Almond’s future work will explore the policy influences (e.g., hospital desegregation and the FSP roll-out of the late 1960s and early 1970s) on the improvement in cohort health for mothers (all of whom gave birth in the 1980s and 1990s), comparing those born in the late 1960s or early 1970s to those born in the early 1960s. In addition, Almond will examine whether cognitive and socioeconomic outcomes for these cohorts show patterns similar to those observed for maternal health.
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