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You sneeze, you lose: The impact of pollen exposure on cognitive performance during high-stakes high school exams

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  • Simon Søbstad Bensnes

    (Department of Economics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Abstract

Pollen is known to cause allergic reactions in approximately 20% of the population. These reactions have significant detrimental effects on sleep, concentration, and cognitive performance. Coincidentally, in many countries the local proliferation of pollen is concentrated in the spring when students take high-stakes exams. Despite these observations, the effect of pollen allergies on school performance has so far received nearly no attention from economists. Using administrative data on Norwegian high school students merged with daily pollen counts, this paper examines the effect of exposure to pollen spores on exam outcomes. I take advantage of the fact that students take several exams in a variety of subjects on different dates, but at the same location, to implement a student fixed effects model. In all specifications increased pollen proliferation on the exam date is found to significantly reduce cognitive performance measured by examination grade. On average, a one standard deviation increase in the ambient pollen level at the mean leads to a 2.5% of a standard deviation decrease in test scores for the average student, with potentially larger effects for allergic students. Supporting the reduced form estimates, the effect is somewhat more pronounced in subsamples with higher prevalence rates of hay fever. Additionally, I find that an increase in the ambient pollen level across exams reduces the probability that a given student graduates on time, and enrolls in higher education. An implication of these findings is that random increases in pollen counts can temporarily reduce cognitive abilities for allergic students who will score worse relative to their peers on high stake exams, and consequently be at a disadvantage when competing for jobs or higher education.

Suggested Citation

  • Simon Søbstad Bensnes, 2015. "You sneeze, you lose: The impact of pollen exposure on cognitive performance during high-stakes high school exams," Working Paper Series 16615, Department of Economics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
  • Handle: RePEc:nst:samfok:16615
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    File URL: http://www.svt.ntnu.no/iso/WP/2015/5_Bensnes.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Hanna, Rema & Oliva, Paulina, 2015. "The effect of pollution on labor supply: Evidence from a natural experiment in Mexico City," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 68-79.
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    3. Joshua Graff Zivin & Matthew Neidell, 2012. "The Impact of Pollution on Worker Productivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(7), pages 3652-3673, December.
    4. Marcotte, Dave E., 2015. "Allergy test: Seasonal allergens and performance in school," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 132-140.
    5. Falch, Torberg & Naper, Linn Renée, 2013. "Educational evaluation schemes and gender gaps in student achievement," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 36(C), pages 12-25.
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    Cited by:

    1. Chen, Xi & Zhang, Xiaobo & Zhang, Xin, 2017. "Smog in Our Brains: Gender Differences in the Impact of Exposure to Air Pollution on Cognitive Performance," GLO Discussion Paper Series 32, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    2. Daniel L. Mendoza & Cheryl S. Pirozzi & Erik T. Crosman & Theodore G. Liou & Yue Zhang & Jessica J. Cleeves & Stephen C. Bannister & William R. L. Anderegg & Robert Paine III, 2020. "Absentee and Economic Impact of Low-Level Fine Particulate Matter and Ozone Exposure in K-12 Students," Papers 2007.09230, arXiv.org.
    3. Simon Søbstad Bensnes, 2016. "Preparation time, exam scores, and tertiary education," Working Paper Series 17216, Department of Economics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
    4. Simon Søbstad Bensnes, 2020. "Scheduled to Gain: Short‐ and Longer‐Run Educational Effects of Examination Scheduling," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 122(3), pages 879-910, July.
    5. Chen, Xi & Zhang, Xiaobo & Zhang, Xin, 2017. "Smog in our brains: Gender differences in the impact of exposure to air pollution on cognitive performance in China," IFPRI discussion papers 1619, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    High school; test score; graduation; pollen; allergic rhinitis; hay fever;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education

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