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Cognitive Disparities, Lead Plumbing, and Water Chemistry: Intelligence Test Scores and Exposure to Water-Borne Lead Among World War Two U.S. Army Enlistees


  • Joseph P. Ferrie
  • Karen Rolf
  • Werner Troesken


Assessing the impact of lead exposure is difficult if individuals select on the basis of their characteristics into environments with different exposure levels. We address this issue with data from when the dangers of lead exposure were still largely unknown, using new evidence on intelligence test scores for male World War Two U.S. Army enlistees linked to the households where they resided in 1930. Higher exposure to water-borne lead (proxied by urban residence and low water pH levels) was associated with lower test scores: going from pH 6 to pH 5.5, scores fell 5 points (1/4 standard deviation). A longer time exposed led to a more severe effect. The ubiquity of lead in urban water systems at this time and uncertainty regarding its impact mean these effects are unlikely to have resulted from selection into locations with different levels of exposure.

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  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17161
    Note: DAE HE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Suzi Kerr & Richard G. Newell, 2003. "Policy-Induced Technology Adoption: Evidence from the U.S. Lead Phasedown," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 51(3), pages 317-343, September.
    2. Werner Troesken, 2008. "The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262701251, January.
    3. Karen Clay & Werner Troesken & Michael Haines, 2014. "Lead and Mortality," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 96(3), pages 458-470, July.
    4. Hilton, F. G. Hank & Levinson, Arik, 1998. "Factoring the Environmental Kuznets Curve: Evidence from Automotive Lead Emissions," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 126-141, March.
    5. Hoyt Bleakley, 2007. "Disease and Development: Evidence from Hookworm Eradication in the American South," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(1), pages 73-117.
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    Cited by:

    1. John Parman, 2013. "Childhood Health and Sibling Outcomes: The Shared Burden and Benefit of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic," NBER Working Papers 19505, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Parman, John, 2015. "Childhood health and sibling outcomes: Nurture Reinforcing nature during the 1918 influenza pandemic," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 22-43.
    3. Janet Currie & Tom Vogl, 2013. "Early-Life Health and Adult Circumstance in Developing Countries," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 5(1), pages 1-36, May.
    4. repec:pri:rpdevs:currie_vogl_ar is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Ferrie, Joseph & Rolf, Karen, 2011. "Socioeconomic status in childhood and health after age 70: A new longitudinal analysis for the U.S., 1895–2005," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 445-460.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy

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