Minimum drinking age laws and infant health outcomes

A.R. Fertig, T. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Alcohol policies have potentially far-reaching impacts on risky sexual behavior, prenatal health behaviors, and subsequent outcomes for infants. After finding initial evidence in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) that changes in the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) are related to prenatal drinking, we examine whether the drinking age influences birth outcomes. Using data from the National Vital Statistics (NVS) for the years 1978-1988, we find that a drinking age of 18 is associated with adverse outcomes among births to young mothers-including higher incidences of low birth weight and premature birth, but not congenital anomalies. The effects are largest among black women. We also report evidence that the MLDA laws alter the composition of births that occur. In states with lenient drinking laws, young black mothers are less likely to report paternal information on the birth certificate, particularly in states with restrictive abortion policies. The evidence suggests that lenient drinking laws generate poor birth outcomes in part because they increase the number of unplanned pregnancies. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-747
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Health Economics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Cited By :23

Export Date: 26 December 2018


Correspondence Address: Watson, T.; Williams College, University of Michigan, NBERUnited States; email:


  • Alcohol
  • Birth weight
  • Infant health
  • Minimum drinking age
  • Prematurity
  • abortion
  • black population
  • drinking
  • health impact
  • infant mortality
  • pregnancy
  • young population
  • adolescent
  • adolescent mother
  • adult
  • adverse outcome
  • African American
  • alcohol consumption
  • article
  • birth certificate
  • congenital malformation
  • disease association
  • drinking behavior
  • health care policy
  • human
  • incidence
  • law
  • low birth weight
  • medicolegal aspect
  • pregnancy outcome
  • prematurity
  • unplanned pregnancy
  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Birth Weight
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Outcome Assessment (Health Care)
  • Young Adult


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