The purpose of this project is to investigate how policies that restrict alcohol consumption affect fetal health, and longer term measures of children's well-being. The estimation strategy will exploit variation in youth alcohol availability generated by changes in state minimum legal drinking ages (MLDAs) that occurred during the 1970s and 1980s. It will also use a regression- discontinuity design, which compares birth outcomes among mothers who are just under, vs. just over the legal drinking age. While an extensive literature has examined the effects of MLDAs on young adults'own health, research on the link between policies that limit access to alcohol, pregnancy, and fetal outcomes is almost non-existent. This gap in our knowledge is somewhat surprising given that previous studies have indicated that higher MLDAs significantly reduce drinking among teenagers, and that alcohol consumption during pregnancy is harmful to fetal health. Taken together, these findings suggest that a benefit of more restrictive alcohol policies may be that they reduce the incidence of such outcomes as fetal alcohol syndrome and improve infants'overall well-being. To my knowledge, however, this hypothesis has never been directly tested. The high social costs that are often associated with poor birth outcome suggest that the benefits of understanding this relationship could be substantial.
There are high social costs associated with poor birth outcomes, such as fetal alcohol syndrome. Understanding how alcohol policies affect these outcomes is crucial to our ability to reduce both the incidence of those outcomes and the accompanying costs.