Effects of Early Childhood Exposure to Ambient Lead and Particulate Matter on Adult Personality

This working paper assesses how early-life exposure to air pollution affects adult personality using annual lead vehicle emissions by county and "Big Five" personality data.



May 10, 2023


Arthur G. Fraas, Randall Lutter, Joshua Murphy, Qinrui Xiahou, Jeff Potter, and Samuel D. Gosling


Working Paper

Reading time

1 minute


To assess how early-life exposure to air pollution affects adult personality, we use new annual lead (Pb) vehicle emissions data by county, for 1969 to 1981, and “Big Five” personality data for 130,000 adults. Models with county and cohort fixed effects show higher Pb exposure during the first five years of life lowers agreeableness and increases openness. Weaker evidence suggests Pb lowers conscientiousness and increases neuroticism but it has no effect on extraversion. We also assess how regulation-induced cuts in total suspended particulates (TSP) levels affect adult personality. We are unable to disentangle early life effects of Pb and TSP.


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