11 May 2022

Universal Early-Life Health Policies in the Nordic Countries


Policymakers in the United States frequently look to the Nordic countries as a point of comparison on the area of infant health. Despite high levels of health care spending and high costs of birth-related health care in the United States, an additional two to four infants per 1,000 die during their first year of life in the United States relative to the Nordic countries. Miriam Wüst has been invited by The Journal of Economic Perspectives to share her knowledge on the subject.

In her invited paper, Universal Early-Life Health Policies in the Nordic Countries, Miriam treats the effects of early-life policies. The paper zooms in on research on this topic from the Nordic countries, where all families have access to a comprehensive set of early-life health programs, including prenatal, maternity, and well-infant care. She describes this Nordic model of universal early-life health policies and discuss the existing evidence on its causal effects from two categories of studies.

First, studying the introduction of universal policies, research has documented important short- and long-run benefits for the health, education, and labor market trajectories of treated cohorts.

Second, exploiting modern-day changes to policy design, research for now documents short- and medium-run impacts of universal care on primarily maternal and child health as well as parental investment behaviors.

Directions for future research

Miriam concludes with directions for future research studying the causal link between policies and early life health; the difficult cost-benefit calculations factoring in returns across domains; and not to forget the dimensions such as effects on child cognitive and socio-emotional development, parental stress, and postpartum mental health.

About JEP

The Journal of Economic Perspectives (JEP) fills the gap between the general interest press and academic economics journals.

The journal aims to publish articles that will serve several goals: to synthesize and integrate lessons learned from active lines of economic research; to provide economic analysis of public policy issues; to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas among the fields of thinking; to offer readers an accessible source for state-of-the-art economic thinking; to suggest directions for future research; to provide insights and readings for classroom use; and to address issues relating to the economics profession. Articles appearing in the journal are normally solicited by the editors and associate editors. Proposals for topics and authors should be directed to the journal office.