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Adaptation and the Mortality Effects of Temperature Across U.S. Climate Regions


  • Garth Heutel
  • Nolan H. Miller
  • David Molitor


We study heterogeneity in the relationship between temperature and mortality across U.S. climate regions and its implications for climate adaptation. Using exogenous variation in temperature and data on all elderly Medicare beneficiaries from 1992 – 2011, we show that the mortality effect of hot days is much larger in cool ZIP codes than in warm ones and that the opposite is true for cold days. We attribute this heterogeneity to historical climate adaptation. As one adaptive mechanism, air conditioning penetration explains nearly all of the regional heterogeneity in heat-driven morality but not cold-driven mortality. Combining these results with projected changes in local temperature distributions by the end of the century, we show that failure to incorporate climate heterogeneity in temperature effects can lead to mortality predictions that are wrong in sign for both cool and warm climates. Allowing regions to adapt to future climate according to the degree of climate adaptation currently observed across climates yields mortality impacts of climate change that are much lower than those estimated without allowing for adaptation, and possibly even negative.

Suggested Citation

  • Garth Heutel & Nolan H. Miller & David Molitor, 2017. "Adaptation and the Mortality Effects of Temperature Across U.S. Climate Regions," NBER Working Papers 23271, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23271
    Note: EEE HC

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Olivier Deschênes & Michael Greenstone, 2011. "Climate Change, Mortality, and Adaptation: Evidence from Annual Fluctuations in Weather in the US," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 152-185, October.
    2. Olivier Deschênes & Enrico Moretti, 2009. "Extreme Weather Events, Mortality, and Migration," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(4), pages 659-681, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. François Cohen & Antoine Dechezlepretre, 2017. "Mortality inequality, temperature and public health provision: evidence from Mexico," GRI Working Papers 268, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
    2. Jamie Mullins & Corey White, 2018. "Temperature, Climate Change, and Mental Health: Evidence from the Spectrum of Mental Health Outcomes," Working Papers 1801, California Polytechnic State University, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming

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