NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Environment, Health, and Human Capital

Joshua Graff Zivin, Matthew Neidell

NBER Working Paper No. 18935
Issued in April 2013
NBER Program(s):   CH   EEE   HE

In this review, we discuss three major contributions economists have made to our understanding of the relationship between the environment and individual well-being. First, in explicitly recognizing how optimizing behavior, particularly in the form of residential sorting, can lead to non-random assignment of pollution, economists have employed a wide range of quasi-experimental techniques to develop causal estimates of the effect of pollution. Second, economic research has placed a considerable focus on the role of avoidance behavior, which is an important component for understanding the difference between biological and behavioral effects of pollution and for proper welfare calculations. Lastly, economic research has expanded the focus of analysis beyond traditional health outcomes to include measures of human capital, including labor supply, productivity, and cognition. Our review of the quasi-experimental evidence on this topic suggests that pollution does indeed have a wide range of effects on individual well-being, even at levels well below current regulatory standards. Given the importance of health and human capital as an engine for economic growth, these findings underscore the role of environmental conditions as an important factor of production.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18935

Published: Joshua Graff Zivin & Matthew Neidell, 2013. "Environment, Health, and Human Capital," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 51(3), pages 689-730, September.

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