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"The Dust was Long in Settling": Human Capital and the Lasting Impact of the American Dust Bowl

Vellore Arthi

No _129, Oxford Economic and Social History Working Papers from University of Oxford, Department of Economics

Abstract: I use variation in childhood exposure to the Dust Bowl, an environmental shock to health and income, as a natural experiment to explain variation in adult human capital. I find that the Dust Bowl produced significant adverse impacts in later life, especially when exposure was in utero, increasing rates of poverty and disability, and decreasing rates of fertility and college completion. Dependence on agriculture exacerbates these effects, suggesting that the Dust Bowl was most damaging via the destruction of farming livelihoods. This collapse of farm incomes, however, had the positive effect of reducing demand for child farm labor and thus decreasing the opportunity costs of secondary schooling, as evidence by increases in high school completion amongst the exposed.

Keywords: Dust Bowl; environmental shock; human capital formation; early life health (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2014-04-30
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