NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Toxic Truth: Lead and Fertility

Karen Clay, Margarita Portnykh, Edson Severnini

NBER Working Paper No. 24607
Issued in May 2018, Revised in June 2019
NBER Program(s):Program on Children, Development Economics Program, Environment and Energy Program, Health Care Program

Using U.S county level data on lead in air for 1978-1988, this paper provides the first causal evidence on the effects of airborne lead exposure on the general fertility rate and the completed fertility rate in the broad population. Instrumental variable estimates show the increase in completed fertility implied by the average observed decrease in airborne lead is 0.14 children per woman, which is 6.4 percent of mean fertility. To explore the current relevance of our findings, we estimate the effect of lead historically accumulated in topsoil on fertility in the 2000s. The results suggest that lead may continue to impair fertility today, both in the United States and in other countries that have significant amounts of lead in topsoil.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24607

 
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