ND Economists Earn NIH Grants for Research

Author: Josh Stowe

Two Notre Dame economists have received funding from the National Institutes of Health to continue research on the well-being of children and families.

Kasey Buckles and Dan Hungerman, both assistant professors in the Department of Economics, have received $150,000 for their project, “Season of Birth and Later Outcomes: Old Questions, New Answers.”

In addition, Hungerman has received a $150,000 NIH grant for a separate study, “The Impact of Early Access to Oral Contraception on the
Health of Women and Children.”

Explaining a Trend

The joint project, Hungerman says, “explores a well-known but poorly understood phenomenon: the fact that children born in winter months sometimes have worse outcomes—lower average wages, less completed schooling—than others.”

Importantly, the study also corrects mistaken assumptions about the timing of pregnancies that other researchers have made, Buckles says. “There are large bodies of research in both medicine and the social sciences that assume that one’s birth date is random,” she notes. “Our work shows that this assumption is false—women of different socioeconomic status are more likely to have births at certain times of year.”

“This phenomenon,” Hungerman adds, “is largely driven by women of lower socioeconomic status giving birth to disproportionately more babies in the winter.”

The Larger Project

As part of the continuing work the NIH grant will support, Buckles and Hungerman plan to consider possible explanations for the phenomenon they have observed.

“We also will be exploring the implications of our findings for other research, including work on the returns to education and on the early life origins of adult disease,” Buckles says.

The two have researched almost 60 million births during their study, with Hungerman examining census data from 1960 to 1980 and Buckles reviewing birth certificate data from 1989 to 2001.

The two researchers plan to publish a series of papers in academic journals based on their work.