This article is the first in a Quartz series called Discrete Choice, where we ask our favorite economists about the most important research they have read recently.
Economist: Janet Currie, Princeton University
Why you should listen to her: Currie is perhaps the world’s leading economist on children’s health. Her research has revealed the long-term impact of early childhood conditions on inequality.
Recommended study: Family Ruptures, Stress, and the Mental Health of the Next Generation by Petra Persson and Maya Rossin-Slater
What the paper says: Using data from Sweden, this study finds that the children of mothers who experienced a death in the family during their pregnancy are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is one of the first studies to show the impact of in-utero stress on mental health later in life. The big takeaway: Programs aimed at easing the lives of pregnant women could help their children live healthier and more economically productive lives.
Why Currie thinks this research is important: “It is the best paper I have seen to date really documenting effects of stress on health. Another exceptional thing about the paper is the focus on mental health, which is an under-researched topic in economics, although it is so important to economic outcomes such as employment and earnings, not to mention health care costs. With suicide as one of the leading causes of death for prime age people, we should be paying more attention to how mental health capital is formed. Lastly, it’s just a really well-done paper and a pleasure to read!”