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Environment, Health, and Human Capital

  • Joshua Graff Zivin
  • Matthew Neidell

In this review, we discuss three major contributions economists have made to our understanding of the relationship between the environment and individual well-being. First, in explicitly recognizing how optimizing behavior, particularly in the form of residential sorting, can lead to non-random assignment of pollution, economists have employed a wide range of quasi-experimental techniques to develop causal estimates of the effect of pollution. Second, economic research has placed a considerable focus on the role of avoidance behavior, which is an important component for understanding the difference between biological and behavioral effects of pollution and for proper welfare calculations. Lastly, economic research has expanded the focus of analysis beyond traditional health outcomes to include measures of human capital, including labor supply, productivity, and cognition. Our review of the quasi-experimental evidence on this topic suggests that pollution does indeed have a wide range of effects on individual well-being, even at levels well below current regulatory standards. Given the importance of health and human capital as an engine for economic growth, these findings underscore the role of environmental conditions as an important factor of production.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18935.

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Date of creation: Apr 2013
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Publication status: published as Joshua Graff Zivin & Matthew Neidell, 2013. "Environment, Health, and Human Capital," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 51(3), pages 689-730, September.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18935
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