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The Effect of Pollution on Worker Productivity: Evidence from Call-Center Workers in China


  • Chang, Tom

    (University of Southern California)

  • Graff Zivin, Joshua

    (University of California, San Diego)

  • Gross, Tal

    (Columbia University)

  • Neidell, Matthew

    (Columbia University)


We investigate the effect of pollution on worker productivity in the service sector by focusing on two call centers in China. Using precise measures of each worker's daily output linked to daily measures of pollution and meteorology, we find that higher levels of air pollution decrease worker productivity by reducing the number of calls that workers complete each day. These results manifest themselves at commonly found levels of pollution in major cities throughout the developing and developed world, suggesting that these types of effects are likely to apply broadly. When decomposing these effects, we find that the decreases in productivity are explained by increases in time spent on breaks rather than the duration of phone calls. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that the negative impacts of pollution on productivity extend beyond physically demanding tasks to indoor, white-collar work.

Suggested Citation

  • Chang, Tom & Graff Zivin, Joshua & Gross, Tal & Neidell, Matthew, 2016. "The Effect of Pollution on Worker Productivity: Evidence from Call-Center Workers in China," IZA Discussion Papers 10027, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp10027

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Cameron, A. Colin & Gelbach, Jonah B. & Miller, Douglas L., 2011. "Robust Inference With Multiway Clustering," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 29(2), pages 238-249.
    2. Tom Chang & Joshua Graff Zivin & Tal Gross & Matthew Neidell, 2016. "Particulate Pollution and the Productivity of Pear Packers," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 8(3), pages 141-169, August.
    3. Lavy, Victor & Ebenstein, Avraham & Roth, Sefi, 2014. "The Impact of Short Term Exposure to Ambient Air Pollution on Cognitive Performance and Human Capital Formation," CEPR Discussion Papers 10302, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Ghanem, Dalia & Zhang, Junjie, 2014. "‘Effortless Perfection:’ Do Chinese cities manipulate air pollution data?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 203-225.
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    More about this item


    productivity; pollution;

    JEL classification:

    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • Q51 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Valuation of Environmental Effects
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling

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