Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Air pollution, foetal mortality, and long-term health: Evidence from the Great London Smog

Ball, Alastair (2014): Air pollution, foetal mortality, and long-term health: Evidence from the Great London Smog.

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This paper provides new evidence on the consequences of foetal exposure to high levels of pollution for the risk of stillbirth, and for the long-term health and labour market outcomes of those that survive. Variation in in utero exposure comes from a persistent weather system that affected London for five days in December 1952, preventing the dispersion of atmospheric pollution. This increased levels of total suspended particulate matter by around 300%. Unaffected counties in England and Wales are used in a differences-in-differences design to identify the short and long-term effects.

Historical registrar data for the nine months following the smog show a 2% increase in reported stillbirths in London relative to national trends. As foetal deaths often go unreported, the exercise is then repeated for registered births. The data show around 1600 fewer live births then expected in London, or a reduction of 3% against national trends. Survivors are then identified by district and quarter of birth, and their health and labour market outcomes observed at fifty and sixty years old. Differences-in-differences estimates show that survivors are in general less healthy, less likely to have a formal qualification, and less likely to be employed than those unaffected by the smog.

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