Does Pollution Drive Achievement? The Effect of Traffic Pollution on Academic Performance

63 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2019

See all articles by Jennifer Heissel

Jennifer Heissel

Naval Postgraduate School

Claudia Persico

American University

David Simon

University of Connecticut

Date Written: January 2019


We examine the effect of school traffic pollution on student outcomes by leveraging variation in wind patterns for schools the same distance from major highways. We compare within-student achievement for students transitioning between schools near highways, where one school has had greater levels of pollution because it is downwind of a highway. Students who move from an elementary/middle school that feeds into a “downwind” middle/high school in the same zip code experience decreases in test scores, more behavioral incidents, and more absences, relative to when they transition to an upwind school. Even within zip codes, microclimates can contribute to inequality.

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Suggested Citation

Heissel, Jennifer and Persico, Claudia and Simon, David, Does Pollution Drive Achievement? The Effect of Traffic Pollution on Academic Performance (January 2019). NBER Working Paper No. w25489. Available at SSRN:

Jennifer Heissel (Contact Author)

Naval Postgraduate School ( email )

Graduate School of Business and
Naval Postgraduate School
Monterey, CA 93943
United States


Claudia Persico

American University ( email )

School of Public Affairs
Kerwin Hall, 4400 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

David Simon

University of Connecticut ( email )

Storrs, CT 06269-1063
United States

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