Date of Award

9-2011

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Economics

First Advisor

Michael Ash

Second Advisor

James K. Boyce

Third Advisor

Arindrajit Dube

Subject Categories

Economics

Abstract

This three-essay dissertation examines racial disparities in infant health outcomes and exposure to air pollution in Texas. It also asks whether the EPA's Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators Geographic Microdata (RSEI-GM) might be used to assess the effects of little-studied toxic air pollutants on infant health outcomes. Chapter 1 contributes to the ``weathering'' literature, which has shown that disparities in infant health outcomes between non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white women tend to widen with age. In this study, we ask whether the same patterns are observed in Texas and among Hispanic women, since other studies have focused on black and white women from other regions. We find that black and Hispanic women in Texas do ``weather'' earlier than white mothers with respect to rates of low birthweight and preterm birth. This differential weathering appears to be mediated by racial disparities in the distribution and response to socioeconomic risk factors, though a large gap between black and white mothers across all ages remains unexplained. Chapter 2 extends the statistical environmental justice literature by examining the distribution of toxic air pollution across infants in Texas. We find that, within Texas cities, being black or Hispanic is a significant predictor of how much pollution one is exposed to at birth. We further find that, among mothers who move between births, white mothers tend to move to significantly cleaner areas than black or Hispanic mothers. In Chapter 3, we use geocoded birth records matched to square-kilometer pollution concentration estimates from the RSEI-GM to ask whether the pollution-outcome relationships that emerge through regression analysis are similar to the effects found in previous research. If so, the RSEI-GM might be used to study the health effects of nearly 600 chemicals tracked in that dataset. We conclude, based on instability of results across various specifications and lack of correspondence to previous results, that the merged birth record-RSEI data are not appropriate for statistical epidemiology research.

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