Childhood Lead and Academic Performance in Massachusetts Childhood Lead and Academic Performance in Massachusetts

By Jessica W. Reyes

It is now widely accepted that childhood exposure to even low levels of lead can adversely affect neurodevelopment, behavior, and cognitive performance. Using individual-level data on childhood lead levels and test scores in Massachusetts, this paper investigates the link between lead levels in early childhood in the 1990s and student test scores in elementary school in the 2000s. Elevated levels of blood lead in early childhood are shown to adversely impact standardized test performance, even when controlling for community and school characteristics. Accordingly, public health policy that reduced childhood lead levels in the 1990s was responsible for modest but statistically significant improvements in test performance in the 2000s, with particular benefits for children in low-income communities.

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