Accepted Paper:

Terrorist violence and newborn health. Estimates for Colombia  


Laura Rodriguez Takeuchi (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper assesses the impact of terrorist violence experienced during pregnancy on children's birthweight using data from Colombian DHS surveys matched with terrorist events records. There is a decline in birthweight for boys, but the impact is mitigated by the mother's education.

Paper long abstract:

Experiences during pregnancy, a sensitive period for child development, can have lasting impacts on health and other outcomes later in life. This paper examines the intergenerational effects of war violence on newborns' health. Exposure to violence by the mother while pregnant can affect the foetus' health through increased levels of 'stress hormone'; the health deterioration would be evident in birthweight as it reflects the cumulative pregnancy conditions. As in previous studies analysing countries with sustained internal conflict, I exploit the geographic and time variation of violence for the identification strategy. To get this variation, I match household survey data from DHS surveys with records of terrorist attacks in Colombia, a country with a long running internal armed conflict. Because the exact timing and location of a terrorist attack is unpredictable, these events can be taken as exogenous sources of variation in violence exposure.

Results suggest that exposure to terrorist violence during the first pregnancy trimester has a large negative impact on birthweight, but that the effect is mitigated by the mother's education. The findings are driven by the effects on baby boys, as there is no effect on girls' birthweight. Additionally, exposure to terrorist violence decreases the prevalence of some negative behaviours during pregnancy (drug use and smoking), but this time, the effect is only apparent when the baby is a girl. While the most likely mechanism for the effect of violence on newborn health is biological (through the mother's hormones), the results suggest that behavioural channels are also operating.

Panel E08
Health and nutritional outcomes: progress and inequalities