This fellowship is given to the student with the best third-year research paper, as determined by a faculty vote. Several studies in medical journals have found that maternal stress correlates with early and underweight births, but Bongkyun’s paper, “Maternal Stress and Birth Outcomes: Evidence from the 1994 Northridge Earthquake,” is the first to explore whether this relationship is causal. To do this he needed an exogenous source of stress unrelated to everything else going on in the mothers’ lives, which is why he chose the 1994 earthquake. His study finds that the relationship is causal, with mothers in their first trimester and closer to the epicenter more likely to have premature or underweight babies.
This paper examines the causal effect of the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California, one of the most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history, on birth outcomes. Using natality data from National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), we use a difference-in-difference estimator and find that infants born closest to the epicenter are more likely to be born prematurely and with low birth weights. The magnitude of the effect is the largest in the first pregnancy trimester. Comparing the results with previous studies suggests that well established infrastructure and preparedness for natural disaster can
reduce the negative effect of natural disaster significantly.
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