Does WIC Work?

The Effects of WIC on Pregnancy and Birth Outcomes

Published in: Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, v. 24, no. 1, Winter 2005, p. 73-91

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2004

by Marianne P. Bitler, Janet Currie

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Support for WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, is based on the belief that WIC works. This consensus has lately been questioned by researchers who point out that most WIC research fails to properly control for selection into the program. This paper evaluates the selection problem using rich data from the national Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System. The authors show that relative to Medicaid mothers, all of whom are eligible for WIC, WIC participants are negatively selected on a wide array of observable dimensions, and yet WIC participation is associated with improved birth outcomes, even after controlling for observables and for a full set of state-year interactions intended to capture unobservables that vary at the state-year level. The positive impacts of WIC are larger among subsets of even more disadvantaged women, such as those who received public assistance last year, single high school dropouts, and teen mothers.

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