Munich Personal RePEc Archive

How lead exposure relates to temporal changes in IQ, violent crime, and unwed pregnancy

Nevin, Rick (1999): How lead exposure relates to temporal changes in IQ, violent crime, and unwed pregnancy. Published in: Environmental Research , Vol. 83, No. 1 (May 2000): pp. 1-24.

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Abstract

This study compares changes in children’s blood lead levels in the United States with subsequent changes in IQ, based on norm comparisons for the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) given to representative national samples of children in 1984 and 1992. The CogAT norm comparisons indicate shifts in IQ levels consistent with the blood lead to IQ relationship reported by an earlier study and population shifts in average blood lead for children under age six between 1976 and 1991. The CogAT norm comparisons also support studies indicating that the IQ to blood lead slope may increase at lower blood lead levels. Furthermore, long term trends in population exposure to gasoline lead were found to be remarkably consistent with subsequent changes in violent crime and unwed pregnancy. Long term trends in paint and gasoline lead exposure are also strongly associated with subsequent trends in murder rates going back to 1900. The findings on violent crime and unwed pregnancy are consistent with published data describing the relationship between IQ and social behavior. The findings with respect to violent crime are also consistent with studies indicating that children with higher bone lead tend to display more aggressive and delinquent behavior. This analysis demonstrates that widespread exposure to lead is likely to have profound implications for a wide array of socially undesirable outcomes.

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