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Sarah K. Cowan, NYU

Estimating the Effect of a Universal Cash Transfer on Birth Outcomes
When May 06, 2024
from 12:00 PM to 01:00 PM
Where 2208 LeFrak Hall- in-person
Contact Name
Contact Phone 301-405-6403
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About the Presentation

American babies fare worse than their peers in high-income countries, and their well-being is starkly unequal along socioeconomic and racialized lines. Newborn health predicts adult well-being, making these inequalities consequential. Policymakers and scholars seek to improve newborn health and reduce inequality and have recently looked to direct cash transfers as a viable intervention. We examine the only unconditional cash transfer in the United States, the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), to learn if giving pregnant people money improves their newborns' health. Alaska has paid its residents a significant dividend annually since 1982. The dividend’s size varies yearly and is exogenous to Alaskans and the local economy, permitting us to make causal claims. After accounting for fertility selection, we find that receiving cash during pregnancy has no meaningful effect on newborn health. Theory focuses on purchasing power and status mechanisms to delineate how money translates into health. It cannot illuminate this null finding. This case illustrates a weakness with current theory - that it does not provide clear expectations for interventions. We propose four components that must be considered in tandem to predict whether proposed interventions will work to guide future research. 

About the Speaker

Sarah Cowan

Sarah K. Cowan is an Associate Professor of Sociology at New York University and the Founder and Executive Director of the Cash Transfer Lab. She is interested in the intersection of politics & policy and population health. Lately, she has continued a focus on abortion in the United States while also interested in what happens when we give people unearned cash.

Seminar Format

Location IN PERSON: 2208 LeFrak Hall.  We are requesting advanced registration so that we can track capacity.  Please use this link to RSVP.


Location ONLINE VIA ZOOM: Zoom Registration Link. Upon registration, you will receive an automatically generated email with the direct link for the seminar


  • If accommodations are needed, please send request to meeting organizer ( at least 72 hours prior to the event, if possible, to allow time to discuss and implement alternatives.


COVID-19 Information

MPRC public events for Spring 2024 will be a mix of in person and online via Zoom.  For in person events, all event attendees must follow current protocols


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