Journal Article

East-Side Story: Historical Pollution and Persistent Neighborhood Sorting


  • Heblich
  • S.
  • Trew
  • A.
  • Zylberberg
  • Y.
Publication Date

Why are the east sides of formerly industrial cities more deprived? To answer this question, we use individual-level census data and create historical pollution patterns derived from the locations of 5,000 industrial chimneys and an atmospheric model. We show that this observation results from path-dependent neighborhood sorting that began during the Industrial Revolution, as prevailing winds blew pollution eastward. Past pollution explains up to 20% of observed neighborhood segregation in 2011, even though coal pollution stopped in the 1970s. We develop a quantitative model to identify the role of neighborhood effects and relocation rigidities underlying this persistence.