Working Paper Series
Family Ruptures and Intergenerational Transmission of Stress
() and Maya Rossin-Slater
Abstract: The high and rapidly increasing prevalence of mental
illnesses underscores the importance of understanding their causal origins.
This paper analyzes one factor at a critical stage of human development:
exposure to maternal stress from family ruptures during the fetal period.
We find that in utero exposure to the death of a maternal close relative
has lasting consequences on mental health in adulthood, as captured by 11
and 9 percent increases in the consumption of prescription drugs treating
anxiety and depression, respectively, and a 23 percent increase in the
average daily dose of medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD).Further, children exposed prenatally to the death of a
relative up to four generations apart are 20 percent more likely to be born
low-birth-weight and 11 percent more likely to be hospitalized for
conditions originating in the perinatal period in early childhood.Our
results imply large welfare gains from preventing fetal exposure to severe
stress; the decrease in consumption of prescription drugs treating
depression alone can be valued at nearly $ 1 billion. More generally, our
results point to in utero stress exposure as a potential cause of the
rising incidence of several mental illnesses.
Keywords: Mental health; Stress; Parental death; In utero; Depression; ADHD; (follow links to similar papers)
JEL-Codes: I12; I14; I18; I31; J12; J13; (follow links to similar papers)
67 pages, May 7, 2014
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