The effect of air pollution on migration: evidence from China

Peer Reviewed
30 April 2022

Shuai Chen, Paulina Oliva, Peng Zhang

This paper looks at the effects of air pollution on migration in China using changes in the average strength of thermal inversions over five-year periods as a source of exogenous variation for medium-run air pollution levels. Our findings suggest that air pollution is responsible for large changes in inflows and outflows of migration in China. Specifically, we find that a 10 percent increase in air pollution, holding everything else constant, is capable of reducing population through net outmigration by about 2.8 percent in a given county. We find that these inflows are primarily driven by well-educated people at the beginning of their professional careers. We also find a strong gender asymmetry in the response of mid-age adults that suggests families are splitting across counties to protect vulnerable members of the household. Our results are robust to different specifications, including a spatial lag model that accounts for localized migration spillovers and spatially correlated pollution shocks.

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Publication reference
Chen, S., Oliva, P., & Zhang, P. (2022). The effect of air pollution on migration: Evidence from China. Journal of Development Economics, 156, 102833.
Publication | 22 March 2022