The Impact of Pollution on Worker Productivity



By Joshua Graff Zivin
UC-San Diego and NBER and

Matthew Neidell
Columbia University and NBER
PERC Lone Mountain Fellow

The external effects of poor environmental quality on human health are well established, leading to illnesses such as respiratory disease, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease. While this health burden is likely to impair one’s ability to perform their job, surprisingly little research has examined the impacts of pollution on the labor market, with a few notable exceptions that have focused on absenteeism, and no evidence to date on labor productivity. In this paper we use a novel panel dataset of hourly farm worker output as recorded under piece rate contracts merged with data on environmental conditions. We estimate econometric models with worker fixed effects to relate the plausibly exogenous daily variations in ozone with worker productivity. Preliminary results provide robust evidence that ozone levels well below federal air quality standards have a significant impact on productivity.

Matthew Neidell is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Mailman School of Public Health, at Columbia University. He was a 2010 PERC Lone Mountain Fellow

For more information on this paper, contact Matthew Neidell at [email protected].