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The Impact of Pollution on Worker Productivity

  • Joshua S. Graff Zivin
  • Matthew J. Neidell

Environmental protection is typically cast as a tax on the labor market and the economy in general. Since a large body of evidence links pollution with poor health, and health is an important part of human capital, efforts to reduce pollution could plausibly be viewed as an investment in human capital and thus a tool for promoting economic growth. While a handful of studies have documented the impacts of pollution on labor supply, this paper is the first to rigorously assess the less visible but likely more pervasive impacts on worker productivity. In particular, we exploit a novel panel dataset of daily farm worker output as recorded under piece rate contracts merged with data on environmental conditions to relate the plausibly exogenous daily variations in ozone with worker productivity. We find robust evidence that ozone levels well below federal air quality standards have a significant impact on productivity: a 10 ppb decrease in ozone concentrations increases worker productivity by 4.2 percent.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17004.

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Date of creation: Apr 2011
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Graff Zivin, Joshua and Matthew Neidell. “The impact of pollution on worker productivity,” American Economic Review, 102(7): 2012.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17004
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Hong H. & Chernozhukov V., 2002. "Three-Step Censored Quantile Regression and Extramarital Affairs," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 97, pages 872-882, September.
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  6. Joshua Graff Zivin & Matthew Neidell, 2014. "Temperature and the Allocation of Time: Implications for Climate Change," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 32(1), pages 1 - 26.
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  9. Hanna, Rema & Oliva, Paulina, 2015. "The effect of pollution on labor supply: Evidence from a natural experiment in Mexico City," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 68-79.
  10. Alan Barreca, 2009. "Climate Change, Humidity, and Mortality in the United States," Working Papers 0906, Tulane University, Department of Economics, revised Jul 2009.
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  12. Harry J. Paarsch & Bruce S. Shearer, 1996. "Piece Rates, Fixed Wages, and Incentive Effects: Statistical Evidence from Payroll Records," CIRANO Working Papers 96s-31, CIRANO.
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  15. Kenneth Y. Chay & Michael Greenstone, 1998. "Does Air Quality Matter? Evidence from the Housing Market," NBER Working Papers 6826, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Matthew Neidell, 2009. "Information, Avoidance Behavior, and Health: The Effect of Ozone on Asthma Hospitalizations," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 44(2).
  17. Maximilian Auffhammer & Ryan Kellogg, 2011. "Clearing the Air? The Effects of Gasoline Content Regulation on Air Quality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(6), pages 2687-2722, October.
  18. Shi Lan, 2010. "Incentive Effect of Piece-Rate Contracts: Evidence from Two Small Field Experiments," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 10(1), pages 1-34, July.
  19. Jerry A. Hausman & Bart D. Ostro & David A. Wise, 1984. "Air Pollution and Lost Work," NBER Working Papers 1263, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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