(Under Review at Journal of Political Economy)
Despite the extraordinary social costs of crime, relatively little is known about the early life determinants of later violent behavior. We explore the effect of access to food in early childhood using two natural experiments: (1) the rollout of the U.S. Food Stamp Program (FSP), and (2) a shift in Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP). Our results yield three important insights. First, we establish a previously unknown causal link between early childhood nutritional assistance and later violent behavior. Second, we demonstrate that, relative to an equivalent cash transfer, providing benefits restricted to the purchase of food has meaningful effects on adolescent violent behavior. This finding suggests the potential importance of childhood nutrition in influencing later violent behavior and has meaningful implications for the debate surrounding cash versus in-kind transfers. Finally, we estimate that, during the early years of the Food Stamp Program (FSP), the magnitude of the discounted external benefits
generated by the nutritional assistance provided was larger than: (1) the inefficiencies generated from the social transfer, and (2) the costs of the FSP program itself.