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Pollution and Mortality in the 19th Century

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  • W. Walker Hanlon

Abstract

Mortality was extremely high in the industrial cities of the 19th century, but little is known about the role played by pollution in generating this pattern, due largely to a lack of direct pollution measures. I overcome this problem by combining data on the local composition of industries in Britain with information on the intensity with which industries used polluting inputs. Using this new measure, I show that pollution had a strong impact on mortality as far back as the 1850s. Industrial pollution explains 30-40% of the relationship between mortality and population density in 1851-60, and nearly 60% of this relationship in 1900. Growing industrial coal use from 1851-1900 reduced life expectancy by at least 0.57 years. A back-of-the envelope estimate suggests that the value of this loss of life, expressed as a one-time cost, was equal to at least 0.33-1.00 of annual GDP in 1900. Overall, these results show that industrial pollution was a major cause of mortality in the 19th century, particularly in urban areas, and that industrial growth during this period came at a substantial cost to health.

Suggested Citation

  • W. Walker Hanlon, 2015. "Pollution and Mortality in the 19th Century," NBER Working Papers 21647, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21647
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    Cited by:

    1. Clay, Karen & Lewis, Joshua & Severnini, Edson R., 2016. "Canary in a Coal Mine: Infant Mortality, Property Values, and Tradeoffs Associated with Mid-20th Century Air Pollution," IZA Discussion Papers 9884, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. David M. Cutler & Wei Huang & Adriana Lleras-Muney, 2016. "Economic Conditions and Mortality: Evidence from 200 Years of Data," NBER Working Papers 22690, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Tyrefors Hinnerich, Bjorn & Lindgren, Erik & Pettersson-Lidbom, Per, 2017. "Political Power, Resistance to Technological Change and Economic Development: Evidence from the 19th century Sweden," Research Papers in Economics 2017:5, Stockholm University, Department of Economics.
    4. Casper Worm Hansen & Peter Sandholt Jensen & Peter Egedesø Madsen, 2016. "Information and Disease Prevention: Tuberculosis Dispensaries," Discussion Papers 16-01, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N53 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling

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