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Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime

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  • Reyes Jessica Wolpaw

    ()
    (Amherst College and NBER)

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    Abstract

    Childhood lead exposure can lead to psychological traits that are strongly associated with aggressive and criminal behavior. In the late 1970s in the United States, lead was removed from gasoline under the Clean Air Act. I use the state-specific reductions in lead exposure that resulted from this removal to identify the effect of childhood lead exposure on crime rates. The elasticity of violent crime with respect to childhood lead exposure is estimated to be 0.8, and this result is robust to numerous sensitivity tests. Mixed evidence supports an effect of lead exposure on murder rates, and little evidence indicates an effect of lead on property crime. Overall, I find that the reduction in childhood lead exposure in the late 1970s and early 1980s was responsible for significant declines in violent crime in the 1990s and may cause further declines in the future. Moreover, the social value of the reductions in violent crime far exceeds the cost of the removal of lead from gasoline.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by De Gruyter in its journal The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy.

    Volume (Year): 7 (2007)
    Issue (Month): 1 (October)
    Pages: 1-43

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    Handle: RePEc:bpj:bejeap:v:7:y:2007:i:1:n:51

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    Cited by:
    1. Nunley, John M. & Seals, Richard Alan & Zietz, Joachim, 2011. "Demographic change, macroeconomic conditions, and the murder rate: The case of the United States, 1934–2006," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 40(6), pages 942-948.
    2. Dave E. Marcotte & Sara Markowitz, 2009. "A Cure for Crime? Psycho-Pharmaceuticals and Crime Trends," NBER Working Papers 15354, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Ferrie, Joseph P. & Rolf, Karen & Troesken, Werner, 2012. "Cognitive disparities, lead plumbing, and water chemistry: Prior exposure to water-borne lead and intelligence test scores among World War Two U.S. Army enlistees," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 98-111.
    4. Hjalmarsson, Randi & Lindquist, Matthew J., 2011. "The Origins of Intergenerational Associations in Crime: Lessons from Swedish Adoption Data," Working Paper Series 11/2011, Swedish Institute for Social Research.
    5. Angela K. Dills & Jeffrey A. Miron & Garrett Summers, 2010. "What Do Economists Know about Crime?," NBER Chapters, in: The Economics of Crime: Lessons for and from Latin America, pages 269-302 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Matthew E. Kahn, 2010. "New Evidence on Trends in the Cost of Urban Agglomeration," NBER Chapters, in: Agglomeration Economics, pages 339-354 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. John M. Nunley & Richard Alan Seals & Joachim Zietz, 2010. "Demographic Change, Macroeconomic Conditions, and the Murder Rate: The Case of the United States, 1934 to 2006," Auburn Economics Working Paper Series auwp2010-04, Department of Economics, Auburn University.
    8. Christopher R. Knittel & Douglas L. Miller & Nicholas J. Sanders, 2011. "Caution, Drivers! Children Present: Traffic, Pollution, and Infant Health," NBER Working Papers 17222, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Pope, Devin G. & Pope, Jaren C., 2012. "Crime and property values: Evidence from the 1990s crime drop," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1-2), pages 177-188.
    10. Theodore J. Joyce, 2009. "Abortion and Crime: A Review," NBER Working Papers 15098, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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