Lead and Juvenile Delinquency: New Evidence from Linked Birth, School and Juvenile Detention Records

Anna Aizer, Janet Currie

NBER Working Paper No. 23392
Issued in May 2017
NBER Program(s):Children, Economics of Education, Environment and Energy Economics, Health Economics, Labor Studies, Public Economics

Using a unique dataset linking preschool blood lead levels (BLLs), birth, school, and detention data for 120,000 children born 1990-2004 in Rhode Island, we estimate the impact of lead on behavior: school suspensions and juvenile detention. We develop two instrumental variables approaches to deal with potential confounding from omitted variables and measurement error in lead. The first leverages the fact that we have multiple noisy measures for each child. The second exploits very local, within neighborhood, variation in lead exposure that derives from road proximity and the de-leading of gasoline. Both methods indicate that OLS considerably understates the negative effects of lead, suggesting that measurement error is more important than bias from omitted variables. A one-unit increase in lead increased the probability of suspension from school by 6.4-9.3 percent and the probability of detention by 27-74 percent, though the latter applies only to boys.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23392

Published: Anna Aizer & Janet Currie, 2019. "Lead and Juvenile Delinquency: New Evidence from Linked Birth, School, and Juvenile Detention Records," The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol 101(4), pages 575-587. citation courtesy of

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