MPIDR Working Paper

Poor air at school and educational inequalities by family socioeconomic status

Bernardi, F., Conte Keivabu, R.
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2023-014, 26 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (March 2023)
Open Access


In this paper we study social stratification in the impact of poor air quality on educational achievement. We address two main questions. First, are students from socioeconomically disadvantaged families more likely to attend schools with poor air quality? Second, is the effect of bad air quality for school results the same for children from high and low socioeconomic status families? We use a novel data set with test scores in math and reading for 456,508 students in 8th grade in a test administered nationally in Italy in 2019. We geocode the location of 6,882 schools based on their addresses and link the level of air pollution of the area around the school, using data on fine particulate matter provided by the Atmospheric Composition Analysis Group. To deal with possible confounders we use municipality fixed effects and control for an indicator of the characteristics of the school neighbourhood, using administrative fiscal data of the real estate values of the area around the school. We have three main findings. First, there is no SES gradient in the exposure to poor air at school. Second, we find a small but robust negative effect of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) on test scores in math but not in reading. Third, this effect is mostly concentrated among low SES students. Conversely, high SES students are largely unaffected by exposure to poor air quality at school. We conclude that exposure to air pollution can exacerbate inequalities in education and the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.