Do Low Levels of Blood Lead Reduce Children's Future Test Scores?

48 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2016 Last revised: 20 Feb 2022

See all articles by Anna Aizer

Anna Aizer

Brown University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Janet Currie

Princeton University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

Peter Roy Simon

Brown University - Department of Epidemiology

Patrick Vivier

Brown University - Department of Community Health

Date Written: August 2016

Abstract

We construct a unique individual-level longitudinal dataset linking preschool blood lead levels with third grade test scores for eight birth cohorts of Rhode Island children born between 1997 and 2005. Using these data, we show that reductions of lead from even historically low levels have significant positive effects on children's reading test scores in third grade. Our preferred estimates use the introduction of a lead remediation program as an instrument in order to control for the possibility of confounding and for considerable error in measured lead exposures. The estimates suggest that a one unit decrease in average blood lead levels reduces the probability of being substantially below proficient in reading by 3.1 percentage points (on a baseline of 12 percent). Moreover, as we show, poor and minority children are more likely to be exposed to lead, suggesting that lead poisoning may be one of the causes of continuing gaps in test scores between disadvantaged and other children.

Suggested Citation

Aizer, Anna and Currie, Janet and Simon, Peter Roy and Vivier, Patrick, Do Low Levels of Blood Lead Reduce Children's Future Test Scores? (August 2016). NBER Working Paper No. w22558, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2832562

Anna Aizer (Contact Author)

Brown University - Department of Economics ( email )

64 Waterman Street
Providence, RI 02912
United States
401-863-3836 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
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Janet Currie

Princeton University ( email )

Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States
6092587393 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.princeton.edu/~jcurrie

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Peter Roy Simon

Brown University - Department of Epidemiology ( email )

Box G-S121-2
121 South Main Street
Providence, RI 02903
United States

Patrick Vivier

Brown University - Department of Community Health ( email )

Providence, RI
United States

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