University of Cincinnati Lindner College of Business

Information, Education and Health Behaviors: Evidence from the MMR Vaccine Autism Controversy
Lenisa Chang

Status: Published
Year: 2018
Publication Name: Health Economics
Volume: 27, Issue: 7, Page Number(s): 1043-1062


In the wake of strong, although later refuted, claims of a link between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, I examine whether fewer parents immunized or delayed vaccinations for their children and if there was a differential response by mother's education level. Using various controls and a differencing strategy that compares the take-up of MMR to other vaccines, I find that the MMR-autism controversy led to a small decline immediately after the controversy and that there were negative spillovers onto other vaccines. I also find evidence that more highly educated mothers responded more strongly to the controversy either by not immunizing their children altogether or, to a lesser degree, delaying future doses. Moreover, the educational gap was greater in states where there was greater media attention devoted to the controversy. This is consistent with the health allocative efficiency hypothesis whereby part of the education gradient in health outcomes is due to more-educated individuals absorbing and responding to health information more quickly. However, unlike in the U.K., where previous studies find that the educational gap was eliminated after the link was refuted, the evidence for the U.S. suggests that the gap persisted.

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Lenisa Chang
Lenisa Chang