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Environmental Economics Seminar: Air Quality, Human Capital Formation and the Long-term Effects of Environmental Inequality at Birth

Date and Time

Thursday 12/07/2017 3:00PM to 4:30PM EST
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Room 4128, William Jefferson Clinton West Building
1301 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20001


Contact: Carl Pasurka, 202-566-2275

Presenter:  John Voorheis (Center for Administrative Records Research and Applications, U.S. Census Bureau)


A growing body of literature suggests that pollution exposure early in life can have substantial long term effects on an individual's economic well-being as an adult, but the mechanisms for these effects remain unclear. This paper examines the effect of pollution exposure on several intermediate determinants of adult wages: college attendance, high school non-completion and incarceration by linking responses to the American Community Survey to SSA administrative data, the universe of IRS Form 1040 tax returns and pollution concentration data derived from EPA ground monitors and satellite remote sensing observations. This allows the author to infer exposure to ozone and particulate matter both at birth and in adolescence for a large sample of individuals born around the enactment of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The author finds that pollution exposure early in life has a large and economically significant effect on college attendance among 19-22 year olds. These effects are concentrated within disadvantaged communities, with larger effects for non-white children and children of poor parents. Additionally, pollution exposure during adolescence has statistically significant effects on high school non-completion and incarceration, but no effect on college attendance.