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The lead-crime hypothesis: A meta-analysis

Anthony Higney, Nick Hanley and Mirko Moro

Regional Science and Urban Economics, 2022, vol. 97, issue C

Abstract: Does lead pollution increase crime? We perform the first meta-analysis of the effect of lead on crime, pooling 542 estimates from 24 studies. The effect of lead is overstated in the literature due to publication bias. Our main estimates of the mean effect sizes are a partial correlation of 0.16, and an elasticity of 0.09. Our estimates suggest the abatement of lead pollution may be responsible for 7–28% of the fall in homicide in the US. Given the historically higher urban lead levels, reduced lead pollution accounted for 6–20% of the convergence in US urban and rural crime rates. Lead increases crime, but does not explain the majority of the fall in crime observed in some countries in the 20th century. Additional explanations are needed.

Keywords: Meta-analysis; Publication selection bias; Pollution; Lead; Crime (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: C83 K42 Q53 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1016/j.regsciurbeco.2022.103826

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