Douglas Almond, Lena Edlund, Mårten Palme; Chernobyl's Subclinical Legacy: Prenatal Exposure to Radioactive Fallout and School Outcomes in Sweden. Q J Econ 2009; 124 (4): 1729-1772. doi: 10.1162/qjec.2009.124.4.1729
We use prenatal exposure to Chernobyl fallout in Sweden as a natural experiment inducing variation in cognitive ability. Students born in regions of Sweden with higher fallout performed worse in secondary school, in mathematics in particular. Damage is accentuated within families (i.e., siblings comparison) and among children born to parents with low education. In contrast, we detect no corresponding damage to health outcomes. To the extent that parents responded to the cognitive endowment, we infer that parental investments reinforced the initial Chernobyl damage. From a public health perspective, our findings suggest that cognitive ability is compromised at radiation doses currently considered harmless.