The Marginal Child throughout the Life Cycle: Evidence from Early Law Variation

Elizabeth O. Ananat, Duke University
Joanna Lahey, Texas A&M University

Do “wanted” children live longer? Our paper examines this question, motivated by recent research on the post-Roe vs. Wade “marginal child” as well as by the Barker hypothesis, which states that early insults to health (in the womb and the perinatal period) reduce life expectancy in adulthood. We test whether wanted children live longer by using legal changes in 19th century birth control and abortion laws. We first demonstrate that limiting access to birth control and abortion increased female fertility in the 19th century. Next, we demonstrate that these laws are not related to other things that might predict either fertility or child longevity. Finally, we use this exogenous variation in the population of marginal (plausibly unwanted) children to demonstrate that, consistent with both the Barker and marginal child hypotheses, children born to women less able to restrict their fertility are less likely to survive through their 60s and 70s.

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Presented in Session 112: Contraception