The long-term evolution of inequality: Poverty, pollution, and human capital

Grant Type: academic

Grant Year: 2020

Grant Amount: $61,000

Grant description:

Environmental inequity is intertwined with income inequality in a variety of ways. Demand for housing, for example, is higher in cleaner areas than in polluted ones, and, at the same time, evidence is accumulating that the communities in which children grow up have long-lasting impacts on their economic and other social outcomes. Other research finds that pollution exposure in utero and in early childhood can have lifelong effects on economic outcomes, suggesting pollution may be one important characteristic of the communities in which children grow up.

This project engages with these issues by investigating the relationships among race/ethnicity, income, pollution, and human capital in Pittsburgh from 1910 to 2010. The two main areas of research are sorting by race that leads to inequality in pollution exposure, and the effects of childhood exposure to pollution on adult income. Although limited to Pittsburgh, it is a strategic site. Once considered “Hell with a lid off” because of the intense pollution arising from the furnaces of the steel industry, exposure to pollution used to be extremely high in the early 20th century but has since declined dramatically, allowing for the comparison over time.

To do this, the authors will take advantage of never-before-used historical data and link it to demographic characteristics of individuals with known residential locations to pollution exposure, jobs, and future outcomes. An anonymized version of these data will be made publicly available, creating a valuable resource for future research.

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