Research Department Working Paper n°27

The gendered effects of air pollution on labour supply

This paper draws on 20 years of systematic data collection on employment and air pollution to explore the link between air pollution and labour supply.

Air pollution affects workers ability to work by damaging their own health, but also by damaging the health of their dependents. This paper draws on 20 years of air pollution and employment data from Santiago, Chile, a highly polluted metropolis, particularly in fall and winter months. The paper finds that though air pollution does not reduce overall hours worked, it does so for women and particularly for women with children. A week with pollution at 100 μg/m3, common for Santiago, doubles the gender difference in working hours. It is hypothesised that children, unable to go to school, must stay home and cared for. Findings do not hold for elderly care, probably reflecting the fact that both sick and healthy dependent elderly are cared for at home and their main family caregiver is generally out of the labour force to begin with. These findings suggest that air pollution may contribute to gender inequality through the gendered-biased distribution of care responsibilities. Pollution brings to evidence gender inequalities in care and, given the gendered nature of care and the geographic distribution of pollution, contributes to enhance gender and geographic labour market inequalities. Environmental policy is a gender equality policy as well.