What happens when everyone drives their kids to school in SUVs

I’m still trying to work out whether I should file this paper under the category “interesting and surprising”, or “econometric validation of something we always knew”.

Does Pollution Increase School Absences?
by Janet Currie, Eric Hanushek, E. Megan Kahn, Matthew Neidell, Steven Rivkin 
We examine the effect of air pollution on school absences using unique administrative data for elementary and middle school children in the 39 largest school districts in Texas.  These data are merged with information from monitors maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency.  To control for potentially confounding factors, we adopt a difference-in-difference-in differences strategy, and control for persistent characteristics of schools, years, and attendance periods in order to focus on variations in pollution within school-year-attendance period cells.  We find that high levels of carbon monoxide (CO) significantly increase absences, even when they are below federal air quality standards.

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4 Responses to What happens when everyone drives their kids to school in SUVs

  1. Patrick says:


    How about econometric demonstration of the absence of a link between correlation and causation?

    CO does not make kids, exposed for a few years, so sick that they miss school. Missing school is primarily about parental indulgence – what connection there may be between pollution and socio-economic status, or driving SUVs and pollution and indulgent parents, I don’t know.

    But I think you should file it under patently false conclusions.

  2. Andrew Leigh says:

    I think the econometrics is pretty solid. Weather-induced CO changes are plausibly exogenous (controlling for season), and it’s hard to tell a reverse causation story. Admittedly, it could be that parents are over-reacting to pollution, but that still has educational implications.

  3. Patrick says:

    My arse, with respect. I’m not being disrespectful to you, but frankly, I don’t doubt the econometrics, merely the basic logic.

    The biggest influence on absences is parental tolerance of sickness. I went to school unless I vomited or had a fever that morning – I think it is safe to say that there is no place in the western world where the pollution would have changed my abseenteism rate in any way.

    Some of my friends were in the same boat. Others missed school quite frequently, often to avoid specific events they considered distasteful, or to participate in particular social activities. For them as well, it seems unlikely that pollution could have made any difference, whatsoever, to their abseenteism rate.

    So my very very strong suspicion is that there is no causation here, even if there is econometrically valid correlation.

  4. Andrew Leigh says:

    Patrick, just because your parents wouldn’t let you miss school – it doesn’t follow that this holds for everyone. Presumably their results are driven by the small share of kids who have asthma, and/or paranoid parents. Either way, pollution is having a direct impact on educational outcomes.

    And I don’t understand your last paragraph at all.

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