The Effects of Income on Climate-Related Mortality RatesEPA Grant Number: F07C10513
Title: The Effects of Income on Climate-Related Mortality Rates
Investigators: Becker, Thomas A.
Institution: University of California - Berkeley
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 1, 2007 through January 1, 2010
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2007) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Environmental Justice , Fellowship - Economics
It is well documented that people with higher incomes have lower mortality rates both within and across countries. There is also evidence that weather events, such as heat waves, droughts, and cold spells have non-negligible effects on mortality rates. Given that the most recent climate simulations predict an overall increase in the incidence of extreme weather due to rising earth surface temperatures, it will be important to understand the asymmetry of the predicted effect on mortality rates across rich and poor countries. This research project will investigate how higher incomes mitigate the mortality effects of weather and to quantify these effects. The results will be an important contribution toward understanding the public welfare and societal impacts of environmental change.
The first stage of research will use time series data from counties in the U.S. South in the 1950s and 60s to assess the effects of variations in weather on the health outcomes of poor, black counties versus neighboring white counties. Segregated counties in the region had very low incomes, low levels of access to health infrastructure, and infant mortality rates twice as high as the white population. In the 1950s, the rate of infant mortality amongst U.S. blacks was roughly equal to the current rate in many developing countries. By examining the degree to which the white and black populations in the U.S. south had different mortality responses to the same weather events, the analysis will calculate the degree to which higher incomes prevent deaths due to extreme weather events.
With an estimate of income’s role in preventing deaths due to weather, this research will quantify an important aspect of how climate change will affect mortality rates in developing countries. Using the estimates calculated from the historical U.S. data and including a number of control variables, the model can be fitted to make country specific estimates for a range of different weather scenarios predicted by the climate models. The strength of this approach is that it overcomes the prohibitive scarcity of high quality time series mortality and income data collected directly from developing countries. These findings will be important in assessing the degree to which climate change could possibly widen global health and income inequities. Poorer residents of rich nations may also be disproportionately affected by the costs associated with mitigating the effects of a more variable climate. Disaster insurance, carbon taxes, and the possibility of displacement due to rising sea levels all have regressive costs and thus levy a disproportionately high burden upon low-income households. These are just some of the equity and economic issues that societies must deal with in the face of climate change. The data and research methodology for this project are adaptable to investigate these types of issues as well.
This research will examine how the anticipated changes to global weather patterns attributable to global warming will affect human health in different countries. It will use historical data on mortality rates and climate to construct a model for how income differences within populations exposed to the same weather experience different mortality effects. With an understanding of the degree to which income serves to protect individuals against weather related deaths, this research will be able to quantify the divergent mortality effects of climate change across countries.