“The political context and infant health in the United States”
Florencia Torche, Stanford University
Abstract: Political factors could have substantial consequences for the health and wellbeing of populations. In the United States, an important political factor is the party of the president. The two main parties differ in their ideologies and policy agendas, and these differences have sharpened since the 1960s. We examine the effect of prenatal exposure to the political party in office at the national level (president’s party) and the state level (governor’s party) on infant health between 1971 and 2018, considering the heterogeneity and timing of these effects. Fixed effects models show a beneficial effect of a Democratic president but no effect of a Democratic governor on birth outcomes. The benefit of in-utero exposure to a Democratic president is much stronger for Black infants than White infants. The effect of the president’s party does not materialize immediately after the inauguration. Rather, it takes approximately two years to fully emerge, and it remains elevated until the end of the party’s tenure in office. The effect is robust across specifications and only partially mediated by a battery of measurable social policies. Our findings suggest that the party in power is an important determinant of infant health, particularly among vulnerable populations.
Bio: Florencia Torche is a social scientist with substantive interests in social demography, stratification, and education. Professor Torche’s scholarship encompasses two related areas. A longer-term area of research studies inequality dynamics — the dynamics that result in persistence of inequality across generations — with a particular focus on educational attainment, assortative mating (who marries who), and the intergenerational transmission of wealth.