July 2016

Air Pollution and Procyclical Mortality

Vol. 3 (3)
Garth Heutel

Prior research demonstrates that mortality rates increase during economic booms and decrease during economic busts, but little is known about the role of environmental risks as a potential mechanism for this relationship. We investigate the contribution of air pollution to the procyclicality of deaths by combining county-level data on overall, cause-specific, and age-specific mortality rates with county-level measures of ambient concentrations of three types of pollutants and the unemployment rate. After controlling for demographic variables and state-by-year fixed effects, we find a significant positive correlation between pollution concentrations and mortality rates. Controlling for carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and ozone attenuates the relationship between overall mortality and the unemployment rate by 17%. The findings are robust to the use of state- rather than county-level data and to a variety of alternative specifications, although the attenuation of the unemployment-mortality relationship after controlling for pollution is insubstantial when including county-specific linear trends.