Growing up in a Steel Town: Early Childhood Exposure to Pollution and Later-Life Mortality

Sarah Taylor, University of Michigan

A vast literature evaluates health consequences of exposure to pollutants. An important prevailing theory is that exposure to high levels of pollution in utero and in childhood can result in a lifetime of health problems, leading to increased mortality rates in later life. I evaluate this claim using a unique proprietary dataset of Medicare records matched to Social Security records which identify birthplace (and thus to likely residence at young ages). My focus is on a sample of over 200,000 individuals born in small towns in Pennsylvania, 1916-1927, who later migrated out of Pennsylvania. Many of these individuals were born in towns with steel mills and rolling mills and thus likely had early-life exposure to high levels of air pollution. I find that these individuals have significantly higher rates of mortality post-age 65 than those born in comparable towns that did not have steel production facilities.

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Presented in Session 135: Environmental Effects on Human Capital