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This Is Only a Test? Long-Run Impacts of Prenatal Exposure to Radioactive Fallout

  • Black, Sandra
  • Bütikofer, Aline
  • Devereux, Paul J.
  • Salvanes, Kjell G

Research increasingly shows that differences in endowments at birth need not be genetic but instead are influenced by environmental factors while the fetus is in the womb. In addition, these differences may persist well beyond childhood. In this paper, we study one such environmental factor – exposure to radiation—that affects individuals across the socio-economic spectrum. We use variation in radioactive exposure throughout Norway in the 1950s and early 60s, resulting from the abundance of nuclear weapon testing during that time period, to examine the effect of nuclear exposure in utero on outcomes such as IQ scores, education, earnings, and adult height. At this time, there was very little awareness in Norway about nuclear testing so our estimates are likely to be unaffected by avoidance behavior or stress effects. We find that exposure to nuclear radiation, even in low doses, leads to a decline in IQ scores of men aged 18. Moreover, radiation exposure leads to declines in education attainment, high school completion, and earnings among men and women. These results are robust to the choice of specification and the inclusion of sibling fixed effects.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 9443.

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Date of creation: Apr 2013
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:9443
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  1. Sandra E Black & Paul J Devereux & Kjell G Salvanes, 2007. "From the Cradle to the Labor Market? The Effect of Birth Weight on Adult Outcomes," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 122(1), pages 409-439, 02.
  2. Fertig, Angela R. & Watson, Tara, 2009. "Minimum drinking age laws and infant health outcomes," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 737-747, May.
  3. Rosemary Hyson & Janet Currie, 1999. "Is the Impact of Health Shocks Cushioned by Socioeconomic Status? The Case of Low Birthweight," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 245-250, May.
  4. Janet Currie & Matthew J. Neidell & Johannes Schmieder, 2008. "Air Pollution and Infant Health: Lessons from New Jersey," NBER Working Papers 14196, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Elaine Kelly, 2011. "The Scourge of Asian Flu: In utero Exposure to Pandemic Influenza and the Development of a Cohort of British Children," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 46(4), pages 669-694.
  6. Janet Currie, 2011. "Inequality at Birth: Some Causes and Consequences," NBER Working Papers 16798, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Kasey Buckles & Daniel M. Hungerman, 2008. "Season of Birth and Later Outcomes: Old Questions, New Answers," NBER Working Papers 14573, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Janet Currie & Enrico Moretti, 2005. "Biology as Destiny? Short and Long-Run Determinants of Intergenerational Transmission of Birth Weight," NBER Working Papers 11567, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Douglas Almond & Lena Edlund & Mårten Palme, 2007. "Chernobyl's Subclinical Legacy: Prenatal Exposure to Radioactive Fallout and School Outcomes in Sweden," NBER Working Papers 13347, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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