Family Ruptures, Stress, and the Mental Health of the Next Generation

Am Econ Rev. 2018 Apr;108(4):1214-52.


This paper studies how in utero exposure to maternal stress from family ruptures affects later mental health. We find that prenatal exposure to the death of a maternal relative increases take-up of ADHD medications during childhood and anti-anxiety and depression medications in adulthood. Further, family ruptures during pregnancy depress birth outcomes and raise the risk of perinatal complications necessitating hospitalization. Our results suggest large welfare gains from preventing fetal stress from family ruptures and possibly from economically induced stressors such as unemployment. They further suggest that greater stress exposure among the poor may partially explain the intergenerational persistence of poverty.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / drug therapy
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / drug therapy
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / etiology
  • Bereavement*
  • Child
  • Depression* / drug therapy
  • Depression* / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Maternal Health*
  • Mental Health*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Sweden
  • Unemployment