How Much Would Reducing Lead Exposure Improve Children’s Learning in the Developing World?

Around half of children in low-income countries have elevated blood lead levels. What role does lead play in explaining low educational outcomes in these settings? We conduct a new systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies on the relationship between lead exposure and learning outcomes.

Publication Type

Journal

Experts

Justin Sandefur, Lee Crawfurd, Rachel Silverman Bonnifield, Rory Todd, Susannah Hares

Time Frame

2023

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Description

Adjusting for observable confounds and publication bias yields a benchmark estimate of a 0.12 standard deviation reduction in learning per natural log unit of blood lead. As all estimates are non-experimental, we present evidence on the likely magnitude of unobserved confounding, and summarize results from a smaller set of natural experiments. Our benchmark estimate accounts for over a fifth of the gap in learning outcomes between rich and poor countries, and implies moderatelearning gains from targeted interventions for highly exposed groups (≈ 0.1 standard deviations) and modest learning gains (< 0.05 standard deviations) from broader public health campaigns.

Additional information

Publication Type

Journal

Experts

Justin Sandefur, Lee Crawfurd, Rachel Silverman Bonnifield, Rory Todd, Susannah Hares

Time Frame

2023