When alcohol becomes cheaper, abortions and adverse birth outcomes increase, new research shows

When Finnish policymakers cut taxes on alcohol and made importing alcohol easier, rates of abortion, pre-term birth, and low birthweight all rose, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Addiction.

Expanding the supply of cheap alcohol was followed by these pregnancy outcomes mainly among low-income women.  Both abortions and adverse birth outcomes reverted to their previous levels after several months.

The short-term increase of adverse birth outcomes and abortions after the price cut implies that the price cut was followed by a period of increased drinking, after which the women at risk returned to the initial levels or patterns of consumption.

A plausible explanation for these findings is that when alcohol becomes more affordable to people with monetary constraints, they drink more.  A population-level rise in drinking would cause a rise in prenatal exposure to alcohol and a corresponding rise in adverse birth outcomes.  Another plausible explanation is that lower alcohol prices may increase unintentional pregnancies, causing a corresponding rise in abortions.

The study made by University of Helsinki looked at 32,400 abortions and almost 170,000 live births over the two years before and one year after a tax cut that lowered the price of off-premises alcohol by 33%.   Lowered alcohol prices were associated with a 0.84 percentage point increase in abortions immediately after the price cut. Furthermore, there was a 1.5 percentage point higher probability of low birth weight, and a 1.98 percentage point increased probability of preterm birth among low-income women after the price cut.  


Further information:  

Co-author Juha Luukkonen, juha.x.luukkonen@helsinki.fi

Full citation for article: Luukkonen J, Junna L, Remes H, and Martikainen P. The association of lowered alcohol prices with birth outcomes and abortions: A population-based natural experiment. Addiction. 2023. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.16119

This paper is free to read for one month after publication from the Wiley Online Library: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.16119

Funding: Academy of Finland, European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Max Planck-University of Helsinki Center for Social Inequalities in Population Health; NordForsk.

The Academy of Finland funds high-quality scientific research, provides expertise in science and science policy, and strengthens the position of science and research in society. The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe.

Addiction (www.addictionjournal.org) is a monthly international scientific journal publishing peer-reviewed research reports on alcohol, substances, tobacco, and gambling as well as editorials and other debate pieces.