Nutritional disruptions experienced during the stage of fetal development impair an individual’s labor market productivity later in life. This is shown in a new IZA paper by Marie Louise Schultz-Nielsen, Erdal Tekin and Jane Greve, who analyze intrauterine exposure to the month of Ramadan as a natural experiment that might cause shocks to the inflow of nutrients essential for fetal development.
The authors use administrative data from Denmark to investigate the impact of exposure to Ramadan in utero on labor market outcomes of adult Muslim males, including employment status, annual salary, hourly wage rate, and hours of work. They find scarring effects on the fetus expressed as poor labor market outcomes later in life. Specifically, exposure to Ramadan in the 7th month of gestation results in a lower likelihood of employment, a lower salary, and reduced labor supply, but not necessarily a lower wage rate.
These results may partially be driven by increased disability and to a lesser extent by poor educational attainment among those who were exposed to Ramadan during this particular period in utero. Since individuals with biological deficits due to their exposure to Ramadan in utero may have received more favorable resources from society or their parents in an effort to mitigate their disadvantages, the results of the study should be interpreted as the long-term biological and social effects of Ramadan exposure. The pure biological impact without remediation might be larger.
The findings have implications for societies in both Western and developing worlds, where millions of babies continue to be born malnourished due to problems such as poverty. Therefore, the study could be considered a basis for advocating interventions that provide benefits to pregnant mothers or families with young children (e.g., subsidized child care or kindergarten, parental leave policies, mentoring programs for children from low socio-economic backgrounds, etc.).