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Environmental Justice Beyond Race: Skin Tone and Exposure to Air Pollution


  • Aguilar-Gómez , Sandra

    (Universidad de los Andes)

  • Cárdenas, Juan Camilo

    (Universidad de los Andes)

  • Salas Díaz, Ricardo

    (Universidad de Massachusetts)


Driven by environmental justice activism and policy reforms, recent social science research conducted mostly in the US has documented the greater environmental degradation faced by marginalized communities. Yet, the ethnoracial categories used in these studies may not fully capture environmental inequality in the Global South. This study presents novel findings that quantify and decompose the link between skin tone and ambient air pollution exposure in Colombia, moving beyond conventional race and ethnicity variables. By matching household geolocations with satellite-based pollution measures, we find that skin tone —even more than predetermined ethnoracial categories— predicts both initial pollution levels and their changes over time. Darker-skinned individuals encounter more significant pollution increases, even after controlling for ethnoracial self-identification. These patterns hold among migrants and non-migrants, indicating that sorting and siting contribute to these disparities. Our results underline the importance of considering skin tone in environmental justice discussions, particularly in contexts where traditional race and ethnicity classifications fall short.

Suggested Citation

  • Aguilar-Gómez , Sandra & Cárdenas, Juan Camilo & Salas Díaz, Ricardo, 2024. "Environmental Justice Beyond Race: Skin Tone and Exposure to Air Pollution," Documentos CEDE 21042, Universidad de los Andes, Facultad de Economía, CEDE.
  • Handle: RePEc:col:000089:021042

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    Environmental justice; air pollution; skin tone; Colombia;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population

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