Internal Seminar: Randall Walsh (University of Pittsburgh)

Title: "Hell with the Lid Off: Locational Sorting in America’s Most Polluted City"

  • Date: 20 September 2023 from 13:00 to 14:00

  • Event location: Seminar Room - Piazza Scaravilli, 2 + Microsoft Teams Meeting


We investigate the role of air pollution in the establishment and maintenance of racial inequities in US cities prior to World War II, using newly digitized historical data on the spatial distribution of air pollution in Pittsburgh, one of the most polluted cities in the pre-war US. The study finds that race and nativity were stronger predictors of exposure to pollution than income, and that racial inequity in exposure to air pollution increased significantly between 1910 and 1940, with black Pittsburghers exposed to more than half a standard deviation more pollution than their white counterparts of similar income, age, and marital status by 1940. The study also identifies interactions between pollution, income, and labor force participation, with single women living as live-in domestic servants exposed to lower pollution levels associated with wealthier households. The study provides evidence for the salience of air pollution in Pittsburgh’s housing market, finding a 5-6% drop in housing price/rent associated with a 1 standard deviation increase in air pollution. The findings suggest that air pollution likely contributed to the establishment and maintenance of racial disparities in US cities prior to World War II, underscoring the need for policies that address the unequal distribution of pollution exposure.