Chernobyl's Subclinical Legacy: Prenatal Exposure to Radioactive Fallout and School Outcomes in Sweden

50 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2007 Last revised: 13 May 2010

See all articles by Douglas Almond

Douglas Almond

Columbia University - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Lena Edlund

Columbia University - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Economics

Marten Palme

Stockholm University - Department of Economics; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Date Written: August 2007

Abstract

Japanese atomic bomb survivors irradiated 8-25 weeks after ovulation subsequently suffered reduced IQ [Otake and Schull, 1998]. Whether these findings generalize to low doses (less than 10 mGy) has not been established. This paper exploits the natural experiment generated by the Chernobyl nuclear accident in April 1986, which caused a spike in radiation levels in Sweden. In a comprehensive data set of 562,637 Swedes born 1983-1988, we find that the cohort in utero during the Chernobyl accident had worse school outcomes than adjacent birth cohorts, and this deterioration was largest for those exposed approximately 8-25 weeks post conception. Moreover, we find larger damage among students born in regions that received more fallout: students from the eight most affected municipalities were 3.6 percentage points less likely to qualify to high school as a result of the fallout. Our findings suggest that fetal exposure to ionizing radiation damages cognitive ability at radiation levels previously considered safe.

Suggested Citation

Almond, Douglas Vincent and Edlund, Lena and Palme, Marten, Chernobyl's Subclinical Legacy: Prenatal Exposure to Radioactive Fallout and School Outcomes in Sweden (August 2007). NBER Working Paper No. w13347, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1009797

Douglas Vincent Almond (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Economics ( email )

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Lena Edlund

Columbia University - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Economics ( email )

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Marten Palme

Stockholm University - Department of Economics ( email )

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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