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Inside the War on Poverty: The Impact of Food Stamps on Birth Outcomes

This paper evaluates the health impact of a signature initiative of the War on Poverty: the rollout of the modern Food Stamp Program (FSP) during the 1960s and early 1970s. Using variation in the month the FSP began operating in each U.S. county, we find that pregnancies exposed to the FSP three months prior to birth yielded deliveries with increased birth weight, with the largest gains at the lowest birth weights. These impacts are evident with difference-in-difference models and event study analyses. Estimated impacts are robust to inclusion of county fixed effects, time fixed effects, measures of other federal transfer spending, state by year fixed effects, and county-specific linear time trends. We also find that the FSP rollout leads to small, but statistically insignificant, improvements in neonatal infant mortality. We conclude that the sizeable increase in income from Food Stamp Program benefits improved birth outcomes for both whites and African Americans, with larger impacts for births to African American mothers.


Children, Children General, Economic Support, Means-Tested Programs