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Edited by Robert M. Hauser, Center for Demography of Health and Aging, Madison, WI, and approved July 23, 2018 (received for review June 8, 2018)
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Most of the population in developing countries live in places with unsafe air. Utilizing variations in transitory and cumulative air pollution exposures for the same individuals over time in China, we provide evidence that polluted air may impede cognitive ability as people become older, especially for less educated men. Cutting annual mean concentration of particulate matter smaller than 10 μm (PM10) in China to the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard (50 μg/m3) would move people from the median to the 63rd percentile (verbal test scores) and the 58th percentile (math test scores), respectively. The damage on the aging brain by air pollution likely imposes substantial health and economic costs, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly for both running daily errands and making high-stake decisions.
This paper examines the effect of both cumulative and transitory exposures to air pollution for the same individuals over time on cognitive performance by matching a nationally representative longitudinal survey and air quality data in China according to the exact time and geographic locations of the cognitive tests. We find that long-term exposure to air pollution impedes cognitive performance in verbal and math tests. We provide evidence that the effect of air pollution on verbal tests becomes more pronounced as people age, especially for men and the less educated. The damage on the aging brain by air pollution likely imposes substantial health and economic costs, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly for both running daily errands and making high-stake decisions.
↵1Xin Zhang and X.C. contributed equally to this work.
- ↵2To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: .
Author contributions: X.C. and Xiaobo Zhang designed research; Xin Zhang, X.C., and Xiaobo Zhang performed research; Xin Zhang analyzed data; and Xin Zhang, X.C., and Xiaobo Zhang wrote the paper.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1809474115/-/DCSupplemental.
Published under the PNAS license.
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