This paper is the first to explore the legacy of early pesticide revolution in the United States. To do so, I study historical arsenic and lead use in agriculture and their effects on education, health and local economies in rural America. Combining historical county crop and weather data with linked census and WWII army enlistment records, I find that in areas with potentially higher use of lead and arsenic, exposed cohorts were 2 percent less likely to complete grade 8 or higher and had lower intelligence test scores (2 percent) compared to older cohorts. Cross-cohort differences due to exposure are strikingly larger in magnitude and statistically significant only in the areas where leaching to groundwater is more likely to occur due to local soil and aquifer characteristics. I also construct a novel dataset by digitizing 1927 Pennsylvania farm census and find that exposed cohorts growing up on treated farms had less schooling confirming the main results. Relative to the pre-arsenical period, areas with higher exposure experienced a 17 to 30 percent increase in deaths from cancer, which persisted over time while the same areas saw a relative decline in overall mortality. Furthermore, I find higher exposure led to a persistent relative decline in farm revenue and land values (10 to 20 percent) in affected areas after 1940 as pesticides lost their efficacy due to excessive use. Finally, I provide a cost-benefit analysis showing that economic costs of additional cancer deaths and decline in farm revenues are nearly half of the estimated economic benefits associated with historical arsenic and lead use.
Published and Accepted Papers
The Great Migration and Educational Opportunity (with Eric Chyn and Bryan Stuart) [Link]
Accepted at American Economic Journal: Applied Economics
This paper studies the impact of the Great Migration on children. We use the complete count 1940 Census to estimate selection-corrected place effects on education for children of Black migrants. On average, Black children gained 0.8 years of schooling (12 percent) by moving from the South to North. Many counties that had the strongest positive impacts on children during the 1940s offer relatively poor opportunities for Black youth today. Opportunities for Black children were greater in places with more schooling investment, stronger labor market opportunities for Black adults, more social capital, and less crime.