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Light Pollution, Sleep Deprivation, and Infant Health at Birth


  • Argys, Laura M.

    () (University of Colorado Denver)

  • Averett, Susan L.

    () (Lafayette College)

  • Yang, Muzhe

    () (Lehigh University)


This is the first study that uses a direct measure of skyglow, an important aspect of light pollution, to examine its impact on infant health at birth. We find evidence of reduced birth weight, shortened gestational length and even preterm births. Specifically, increased nighttime brightness, characterized by being able to see only one-third to one-fourth of the stars that are visible in the absence of artificial light, is associated with an increase in the likelihood of a preterm birth by as much as 12.8 percent, or an increase of approximately 45,000 preterm births nationwide annually. Our findings add to the literature on the impact of in utero and early-life exposure to pollution, which thus far has focused primarily on air pollution. The unique feature of our identification strategy to determine a causal effect is the application of Walker's Law in physics, which provides a scientific basis to estimate skyglow. We use estimated skyglow as an instrumental variable to address the endogeneity problem associated with the skyglow variable. In addition, our study shows that increased skyglow is associated with less sleep, indicating a likely biological mechanism that links sleep deprivation to light-pollution induced circadian disruption. This result, combined with the literature on the adverse effects of sleep disorders, completes the causal chain underlying our finding on the adverse health impact of skyglow. Our study has important policy implications for current installation of LED streetlights in many U.S. municipalities, highlighting the necessity of minimizing skyglow contributed by streetlights.

Suggested Citation

  • Argys, Laura M. & Averett, Susan L. & Yang, Muzhe, 2018. "Light Pollution, Sleep Deprivation, and Infant Health at Birth," IZA Discussion Papers 11703, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp11703

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    1. repec:wly:jpamgt:v:36:y:2017:i:3:p:557-583 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Christopher R. Knittel & Douglas L. Miller & Nicholas J. Sanders, 2016. "Caution, Drivers! Children Present: Traffic, Pollution, and Infant Health," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 98(2), pages 350-366, May.
    3. Janet Currie & Hannes Schwandt, 2016. "The 9/11 Dust Cloud and Pregnancy Outcomes: A Reconsideration," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 51(4), pages 805-805-831.
    4. Seema Jayachandran, 2009. "Air Quality and Early-Life Mortality: Evidence from Indonesia’s Wildfires," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 44(4).
    5. Janet Currie & Reed Walker, 2011. "Traffic Congestion and Infant Health: Evidence from E-ZPass," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(1), pages 65-90, January.
    6. Kenneth Y. Chay & Michael Greenstone, 2003. "The Impact of Air Pollution on Infant Mortality: Evidence from Geographic Variation in Pollution Shocks Induced by a Recession," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(3), pages 1121-1167.
    7. Currie, Janet & Neidell, Matthew & Schmieder, Johannes F., 2009. "Air pollution and infant health: Lessons from New Jersey," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 688-703, May.
    8. Eva Arceo & Rema Hanna & Paulina Oliva, 2016. "Does the Effect of Pollution on Infant Mortality Differ Between Developing and Developed Countries? Evidence from Mexico City," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 126(591), pages 257-280, March.
    9. Osea Giuntella, 2017. "Sunset Time and the Economic Effects of Social Jetlag: Evidence from US Time Zone Borders," Working Paper 6255, Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh.
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    More about this item


    light pollution; skyglow; sleep deprivation; birth outcomes;

    JEL classification:

    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • Q59 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Other
    • R11 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Regional Economic Activity: Growth, Development, Environmental Issues, and Changes

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