Air Toxics, Early Cognitive Development, and Household Responsiveness
Job Market Candidate
Department of Agricultural & Applied Economics
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Taylor-Hibbard Seminar Room (Rm103)
12:00 pm-1:30 pm
This paper examines a widespread and under-studied source of environmental harm to children's early cognition, and illustrates how parental investments in child development respond to these external threats. Motivated by a growing empirical literature showing causal links between historic or contemporaneous environmental pollution and fetal or later-life outcomes, and theory predicting parental investments of time and money are responsive to cognitive shocks in early childhood, I estimate the effect of airborne toxic releases in infancy on cognition. A detailed survey of early development allows me to consider the interplay of cognitive shocks in infancy and household resources and choices in the years leading up to kindergarten. I pair the Birth Cohort of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS--B) with ambient airborne toxicity risk from Risk Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI), which models the dispersion of chemicals reported to the Toxics Release Inventory. Cognitive assessments in each wave of the survey provide a direct measure of children's early skills. To identify effects from airborne toxicity risk, I exploit the timing of birth of ECLS--B children within zip codes. I estimate a negative effect of exposure to airborne toxicants in infancy that persists through when children in the study are kindergarten-aged (the last time they are observed); this is the first estimate of an effect on medium-term human capital from airborne toxic releases. I also leverage the many measures of household characteristics and parent decisions in the ECLS--B to ask whether and in what direction household investments in kids' human capital respond to airborne toxicity, or whether certain household environments are protective against environmental shocks to cognition. While I find no evidence of responsive investments, children from more affluent households are less affected by neonatal toxicity exposure, suggesting existing patterns of environmental inequality may exacerbate school readiness gaps.