IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Lead Pipes and Child Mortality


  • Karen Clay
  • Werner Troesken
  • Michael Haines


Beginning around 1880, public health issues and engineering advances spurred the installation of city water and sewer systems. As part of this growth, many cities chose to use lead service pipes to connect residences to city water systems. This choice had negative consequences for child mortality, although the consequences were often hard to observe amid the overall falling death rates. This paper uses national data from the public use sample of the 1900 Census of Population and data on city use of lead pipes in 1897 to estimate the effect of lead pipes on child mortality. In 1900, 29 percent of the married women in the United States who had given birth to at least one child and were age forty-five or younger lived in locations where lead service pipes were used to deliver water. Because the effect of lead pipes depended on the acidity and hardness of the water, much of the negative effect was concentrated on the densely populated eastern seaboard. In the full sample, women who lived on the eastern seaboard in cities with lead pipes experienced increased child mortality of 9.3 percent relative to the sample average. These estimates suggest that the number of child deaths attributable to the use of lead pipes numbered in the tens of thousands. Many surviving children may have experienced substantial IQ impairment as a result of lead exposure. The tragedy is that lead problems were avoidable, particularly once data became available on the toxicity of lead. These findings have implications for current policy and events.

Suggested Citation

  • Karen Clay & Werner Troesken & Michael Haines, 2006. "Lead Pipes and Child Mortality," NBER Working Papers 12603, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12603
    Note: CH DAE HE

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Samuel H. Preston & Michael R. Haines, 1991. "Fatal Years: Child Mortality in Late Nineteenth-Century America," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number pres91-1, January.
    2. Werner Troesken, 2008. "The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262701251, January.
    3. Werner Troesken & Patricia E.. Beeson, 2003. "The Significance of Lead Water Mains in American Cities. Some Historical Evidence," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Labor Force Participation over the Life Cycle: Evidence from the Past, pages 181-202 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Werner Troesken, 2003. "Lead Water Pipes and Infant Mortality in Turn-of-the-Century Massachusetts," NBER Working Papers 9549, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn, 2008. "Learning from the Past," NBER Chapters,in: Heroes and Cowards: The Social Face of War National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Tomás Rau & Loreto Reyes & Sergio S. Urzúa, 2013. "The Long-term Effects of Early Lead Exposure: Evidence from a case of Environmental Negligence," NBER Working Papers 18915, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12603. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.