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Lead and Mortality

Author

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  • Karen Clay
  • Werner Troesken
  • Michael R. Haines

Abstract

This paper examines the effect of water-borne lead exposure on infant mortality in American cities over the period 1900-1920. Infants are highly sensitive to lead, and more broadly are a marker for current environmental conditions. The effects of lead on infant mortality are identified by variation across cities in water acidity and the types of service pipes that the water ran through - lead, iron, or concrete - which together determined the extent of lead exposure. Estimates that restrict the sample to cities with lead pipes and panel estimates provide further support for the causal link between water-borne lead and infant mortality. The magnitudes of the effects were large. In 1900, a decline in exposure equivalent to an increase in pH from 6.675 (25th percentile) to 7.3 (50th percentile) in cities with lead-only pipes would have been associated with a decrease in infant mortality of 7 to 33 percent or at least 12 fewer infant deaths per 1,000 live births. This paper examines the effect of water-borne lead exposure on infant mortality in American cities over the period 1900-1920. Infants are highly sensitive to lead, and more broadly are a marker for current environmental conditions. The effects of lead on infant mortality are identified by variation across cities in water acidity and the types of service pipes that the water ran through - lead, iron, or concrete - which together determined the extent of lead exposure. Estimates that restrict the sample to cities with lead pipes and panel estimates provide further support for the causal link between water-borne lead and infant mortality. The magnitudes of the effects were large. In 1900, a decline in exposure equivalent to an increase in pH from 6.675 (25th percentile) to 7.3 (50th percentile) in cities with lead-only pipes would have been associated with a decrease in infant mortality of 7 to 33 percent or at least 12 fewer infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

Suggested Citation

  • Karen Clay & Werner Troesken & Michael R. Haines, 2010. "Lead and Mortality," NBER Working Papers 16480, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16480
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Kim, Sukkoo & Margo, Robert A., 2004. "Historical perspectives on U.S. economic geography," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics,in: J. V. Henderson & J. F. Thisse (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 66, pages 2981-3019 Elsevier.
    2. 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, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Feigenbaum, James J. & Muller, Christopher, 2016. "Lead exposure and violent crime in the early twentieth century," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 51-86.
    2. Knutsson, Daniel, 2017. "Water Improvement and Health: Historical Evidence on the Effect of Filtering Water on Urban Mortality," Research Papers in Economics 2017:2, Stockholm University, Department of Economics.
    3. Sanders, Nicholas J. & Stoecker, Charles, 2015. "Where have all the young men gone? Using sex ratios to measure fetal death rates," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 30-45.
    4. Ziebarth, N. R. & Schmitt, M. & Karlsson, M., 2013. "The short-term population health effects of weather and pollution: implications of climate change," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 13/34, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
    5. Casper Worm Hansen & Peter Sandholt Jensen & Peter Egedesø Madsen, 2017. "Preventing the White Death: Tuberculosis Dispensaries," Discussion Papers 17-19, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    6. Lauren Hoehn Velasco, 2016. "Explaining Declines in US Rural Mortality, 1910-1933: The Role of County Health Departments," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 919, Boston College Department of Economics.
    7. Joseph P. Ferrie & Karen Rolf & Werner Troesken, 2011. "Cognitive Disparities, Lead Plumbing, and Water Chemistry: Intelligence Test Scores and Exposure to Water-Borne Lead Among World War Two U.S. Army Enlistees," NBER Working Papers 17161, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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