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Pollution and Mortality in the 19th Century

W Hanlon ()

No 21647, NBER Working Papers from National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc

Abstract: Mortality was extremely high in the industrial cities of the 19th century, but little is known about the role played by pollution in generating this pattern, due largely to a lack of direct pollution measures. I overcome this problem by combining data on the local composition of industries in Britain with information on the intensity with which industries used polluting inputs. Using this new measure, I show that pollution had a strong impact on mortality as far back as the 1850s. Industrial pollution explains 30-40% of the relationship between mortality and population density in 1851-60, and nearly 60% of this relationship in 1900. Growing industrial coal use from 1851-1900 reduced life expectancy by at least 0.57 years. A back-of-the envelope estimate suggests that the value of this loss of life, expressed as a one-time cost, was equal to at least 0.33-1.00 of annual GDP in 1900. Overall, these results show that industrial pollution was a major cause of mortality in the 19th century, particularly in urban areas, and that industrial growth during this period came at a substantial cost to health.

JEL-codes: I10 N33 N53 Q53 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2015-10
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-env, nep-gro, nep-hea, nep-his, nep-pke and nep-ure
Note: DAE
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