Environmental Regulations in China and Their Effects on Air Pollution and Infant Mortality

Last updated December 2010
Shinsuke Tanaka

This study quantifies the impact of air pollution and related regulations on infant mortality in China. To establish causality, I exploit plausibly exogenous variations in air quality generated by environmental regulations since 1995. These legislations imposed stringent regulations on pollutant emissions from power plants. The results suggest that the regulations led to significant reductions in air pollution and infant mortality rate (IMR). I estimate that 25,400 fewer infants died per year than would have died in the absence of the regulations, corresponding to a 21 percent decline in IMR. The findings also reveal that infants from low socioeconomic families are more vulnerable to the effects of pollution. More importantly, the analysis highlights the important role of maternal exposure to pollution on fetal development. The instrumental variable estimates indicate that a 1 percent reduction in total suspended particulates (TSP) results in a 0.95 percent reduction in IMR, whereas a 1 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide results in a 0.82 percent reduction in IMR. The estimated impact of a unit change in TSP is of similar magnitude to that found in the United States, but the elasticity is substantially higher in China, highlighting the greater benefits associated with more stringent regulations when pollution is already quite severe.

Contact Information:
Shinsuke Tanaka, stanaka@bu.edu, Boston University, Department of Economics