Martin Koppensteiner, Marco Manacorda, 18 April 2016

Stress and violence during the nine months in utero has been widely shown to have important effects on child development. To date this research has largely focused on extreme and relatively rare events. This column uses data from Brazil to explore how exposure to day-to-day violence can affect birth weight. The birth weight of newborns whose mothers are exposed to a homicide during their first trimester is significantly lower. This effect is smaller for mothers who live in more violent neighbourhoods, consistent with the interpretation that violence is more stressful when it is rare. 

Sandra Black, Paul Devereux, Kjell Salvanes, 20 August 2014

Adverse health or nutrition shocks to pregnant women can have significant and often long-lasting effects on the outcomes of their children, but much less is known about the effects of psychological stresses. This column discusses recent research on the effect of stress induced by the death of a parent while pregnant on the short- and long-run outcomes of children in Norway. Maternal bereavement has small but statistically significant adverse effects on birth outcomes – especially for boys – but there is no evidence of any long-run adverse effects.

Sarah Lewis, Stephanie von Hinke Kessler Scholder, George Wehby, Luisa Zuccolo, 08 March 2014

Excessive drinking during pregnancy is known to harm the foetus, but estimating the effects of moderate prenatal alcohol consumption is difficult, since mothers who choose to drink may differ systematically from those who do not. This column presents recent research showing that a genetic variant in a maternal alcohol-metabolising gene (ADH1B) is negatively related to prenatal alcohol exposure, and unrelated to any of the background characteristics associated with prenatal drinking. Using this genetic variant as an ‘instrumental variable’, the authors find strong negative effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on child educational achievement.

Douglas Almond, 06 November 2009

Douglas Almond of Columbia University talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his research with Bhashkar Mazumder on women who are pregnant during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the impact of fasting on their children – in terms of birth weight and the likelihood of being a boy or girl, as well as later life health outcomes. The interview was recorded at the Centre for Market and Public Organisation in Bristol (UK) in October 2009.