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This Is Only a Test? Long-Run Impacts of Prenatal Exposure to Radioactive Fallout

  • Sandra E. Black
  • Aline Bütikofer
  • Paul J. Devereux
  • Kjell G. Salvanes

Research increasingly shows that differences in endowments at birth need not be genetic but instead are influenced by environmental factors while the fetus is in the womb. In addition, these differences may persist well beyond childhood. In this paper, we study one such environmental factor - exposure to radiation --that affects individuals across the socio-economic spectrum. We use variation in radioactive exposure throughout Norway in the 1950s and early 60s, resulting from the abundance of nuclear weapon testing during that time period, to examine the effect of nuclear exposure in utero on outcomes such as IQ scores, education, earnings, and adult height. Importantly, we are able to examine the effects of exposure each month in utero to determine the periods when exposure is most harmful. We find that exposure to low-dose nuclear radiation, specifically during months 3 and 4 in utero, leads to a decline in IQ scores of men aged 18. Moreover, radiation exposure leads to declines in education attainment, high school completion, and earnings among men and women. We are also able to examine whether these effects persist across a second generation - we find that the children of persons affected in utero also have lower cognitive scores, suggesting a persistent effect of the shock to endowments. Given the lack of awareness about nuclear testing in Norway at this time, our estimates are likely to be unaffected by avoidance behavior or stress effects. These results are robust to the choice of specification and the inclusion of sibling fixed effects.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18987.

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Date of creation: Apr 2013
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18987
Note: CH ED LS
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  1. Janet Currie & Enrico Moretti, 2005. "Biology as Destiny? Short and Long-Run Determinants of Intergenerational Transmission of Birth Weight," NBER Working Papers 11567, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Currie, Janet & Neidell, Matthew & Schmieder, Johannes F., 2009. "Air pollution and infant health: Lessons from New Jersey," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 688-703, May.
  3. Janet Currie, 2011. "Inequality at Birth: Some Causes and Consequences," NBER Working Papers 16798, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Fertig, Angela R. & Watson, Tara, 2009. "Minimum drinking age laws and infant health outcomes," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 737-747, May.
  5. Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux & Kjell Salvanes, 2005. "From the Cradle to the Labor Market? The Effect of Birth Weight on Adult Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 11796, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Janet Currie & Rosemary Hyson, 1999. "Is the Impact of Health Shocks Cushioned by Socioeconomic Status? The Case of Low Birthweight," NBER Working Papers 6999, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Elaine Kelly, 2009. "The scourge of Asian Flu: in utero exposure to pandemic influenza and the development of a cohort of British children," IFS Working Papers W09/17, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  8. Kasey S. Buckles & Daniel M. Hungerman, 2013. "Season of Birth and Later Outcomes: Old Questions, New Answers," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(3), pages 711-724, July.
  9. Douglas Almond & Lena Edlund & Mårten Palme, 2009. "Chernobyl's Subclinical Legacy: Prenatal Exposure to Radioactive Fallout and School Outcomes in Sweden," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 124(4), pages 1729-1772, November.
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