Human capital generally, and cognitive skills specifically, play a crucial role in determining economic mobility and macroeconomic growth. While elevated temperatures have been shown to impair short-run cognitive performance, much less is known about whether heat exposure affects the rate of skill formation. We combine standardized achievement data for 58 countries and 12,000 US school districts with detailed weather and academic calendar information to show that the rate of learning decreases with an increase in the number of hot school days. These results provide evidence that climatic differences may contribute to differences in educational achievement both across countries and within countries by socioeconomic status and that may have important implications for the magnitude and functional form of climate damages in coupled human–natural systems.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
The weather data that support the findings of this study are available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/). The international assessment data are available from PISA (https://www.oecd.org/pisa/data/). The US assessment data are available through NCES, compiled by district, grade, subject and year at SEDA (https://exhibits.stanford.edu/data/catalog/db586ns4974). Additional data at the country level, including employment shares and per-capita income, are available at the World Bank’s World Development Indicators archives (https://datatopics.worldbank.org/world-development-indicators/wdi-archives.html).
Custom code that supports the findings of this study is available from the corresponding author upon request.
de Secondat Montesquieu, C. The Spirit of Laws. vol. 2. (J. Nourse and P. Vaillant, 1773).
Dell, M., Jones, B. F. & Olken, B. A. Temperature shocks and economic growth: evidence from the last half century. Am. Econ. J. Macroecon. 4, 66–95 (2012).
Park, R. J., Goodman, J. & Goodman, M. & Smith, J.Heat and learning.Am. Econ. J. Econ. Policy 12, 306–339 (2020).
Goldin, C. D. & Katz, L. F. The Race Between Education and Technology (Harvard Univ. Press, 2009).
Chetty, R., Hendren, N., Kline, P. & Saez, E. Where is the land of opportunity? The geography of intergenerational mobility in the United States. Q. J. Econ. 129, 1553–1623 (2014).
David, H. Skills, education, and the rise of earnings inequality among the ‘other 99 percent’. Science 344, 843–851 (2014).
Hanushek, E. A. & Woessmann, L. Knowledge capital, growth, and the East Asian miracle. Science 351, 344–345 (2016).
Marshall, B. & Emerick, K. Adaptation to climate change: evidence from US agriculture. Am. Econ. J. Econ. Policy 8, 106–140 (2016).
Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S. & Robinson, J. A. The colonial origins of comparative development: an empirical investigation. Am. Econ. Rev. 91, 1369–1401 (2001).
Nathan, N. & Wantchekon, L. The slave trade and the origins of mistrust in Africa. Am. Econ. Rev. 101, 3221–3252 (2011).
Nathan, N. The historical roots of economic development. Science 367, eaaz9986 (2020).
Gallup, J. L., Sachs, J. D. & Mellinger, A. D. Geography and economic development. Int. Reg. Sci. Rev. 22, 179–232 (1999).
Schlenker, W., Hanemann, W. M. & Fisher, A. C. The impact of global warming on US agriculture: an econometric analysis of optimal growing conditions. Rev. Econ. Stat. 88, 113–125 (2006).
Gallup, J. L. & Sachs, J. D. The economic burden of malaria. Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg. 64, 85–96 (2001).
Currie, J. Healthy, wealthy, and wise: socioeconomic status, poor health in childhood, and human capital development. J. Econ. Lit. 47, 87–122 (2009).
Maccini, S. & Yang, D. Under the weather: health, schooling, and economic consequences of early-life rainfall. Am. Econ. Rev. 99, 1006–1026 (2009).
Shah, M. & Steinberg, B. M. Drought of opportunities: contemporaneous and long-term impacts of rainfall shocks on human capital. J. Political Econ. 125, 527–561 (2017).
Ramsey, J. D. Task performance in heat: a review. Ergonomics 38, 154–165 (1995).
Hocking, C., Silberstein, R. B., Lau, W. M., Stough, C. & Roberts, W. Evaluation of cognitive performance in the heat by functional brain imaging and psychometric testing. Comp. Biochem. Physiol. A Mol. Integr. Physiol. 128, 719–734 (2001).
Park, R. J. Hot temperature and high stakes performance. J. Hum. Res. https://doi.org/10.3368/jhr.57.2.0618-9535R3 (2020).
Graff Zivin, J. & Neidell, M. Temperature and the allocation of time: implications for climate change. J. Labor Econ. 32, 1–26 (2014).
Acemoglu, D. & Autor, D. in Handbook of Labor Economics Vol. 4, 1043–1171 (Elsevier, 2011).
Graff Zivin, J. S., Hsiang, S. M. & Neidell, M. J.Temperature and human capital in the short- and long-run.J. Assoc. Environ. Res. Econ. 5, 77–105 (2017).
Carleton, T. A. et al. Valuing the Global Mortality Consequences of Climate Change Accounting for Adaptation Costs and Benefits Working paper (NBER, 2018).
Hsiang, S., Oliva, P. & Oliva, R.The distribution of environmental damages.Rev. Environ. Econ. Pol. 13, 83–103 (2018).
Rowland, T. Thermoregulation during exercise in the heat in children: old concepts revisited. J. Appl. Physiol. 105, 718–724 (2008).
Ebenstein, A., Lavy, V. & Roth, S. The long-run economic consequences of high-stakes examinations: evidence from transitory variation in pollution. Am. Econ. J. Appl. Econ. 8, 36–65 (2016).
Paula, A. & Päivi, P.-K. Sleep deprivation: impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatr. Dis. Treat. 3, 553–567 (2007).
Mani, A., Mullainathan, S., Shafir, E. & Zhao, J. Poverty impedes cognitive function. Science 341, 976–980 (2013).
Burke, M., Hsiang, S. M. & Miguel, E. Global non-linear effect of temperature on economic production. Nature 527, 235–239 (2015).
Barreca, A., Clay, K., Deschenes, O., Greenstone, M. & Joseph, J. S. Adapting to climate change: the remarkable decline in the US temperature–mortality relationship over the twentieth century. J. Political Econ. 124, 105–159 (2016).
Davis, L. W. & Gertler, P. J. Contribution of air conditioning adoption to future energy use under global warming. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 5962–5967 (2015).
Randazzo, T., De Cian, E. & Mistry, M. Air conditioning and electricity expenditure: the role of climate in temperate countries. Econ. Model. 90, 273–287 (2020).
Gilfillan, S. C. The coldward course of progress. Polit. Sci. Q. 35, 393–410 (1920).
Huntington, E. Civilization and Climate (Yale Univ. Press, 1922).
Hsiang, S. M., Burke, M. & Miguel, E. Quantifying the influence of climate on human conflict. Science 341, 1235367 (2013).
Reardon, S. F., Kalogrides, D. & Shores, K. The Geography of Racial/Ethnic Test Score Gaps. CEPA working paper no. 16-10 (Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, 2017).
Chetty, R. et al. How does your kindergarten classroom affect your earnings? Evidence from project star. Q. J. Econ. 126, 1593–1660 (2011).
Woessmann, L. The importance of school systems: evidence from international differences in student achievement. J. Econ. Perspect. 30, 3–31 (2016).
Kjellstrom, T. & Crowe, J. Climate change, workplace heat exposure, and occupational health and productivity in Central America. Int. J. Occup. Environ. Health 17, 270–281 (2011).
Graff-Zivin, J. & Neidell, M. The impact of pollution on worker productivity. Am. Econ. Rev. 102, 3652–3673 (2012).
Deschênes, O. & Greenstone, M. Climate change, mortality, and adaptation: evidence from annual fluctuations in weather in the US. Am. Econ. J. Appl. Econ. 3, 152–185 (2011).
Anderson, G. B. et al. Heat-related emergency hospitalizations for respiratory diseases in the Medicare population. Am. J. Resp. Crit. Care Med. 187, 1098–1103 (2013).
Lutz, W., Muttarak, R. & Striessnig, E. Universal education is key to enhanced climate adaptation. Science 346, 1061–1062 (2014).
Greenstone, M., Kopits, E. & Wolverton, A. Developing a social cost of carbon for US regulatory analysis: a methodology and interpretation. Rev. Environ. Econ. Policy 7, 23–46 (2013).
Anthoff, D. & Emmerling, J. Inequality and the social cost of carbon. J. Assoc. Environ. Resour. Econ. 6, 29–59 (2019).
Auffhammer, M. & Mansur, E. T. Measuring climatic impacts on energy consumption: a review of the empirical literature. Energy Econ. 46, 522–530 (2014).
Deschênes, O. & Greenstone, M. The economic impacts of climate change: evidence from agricultural output and random fluctuations in weather. Am. Econ. Rev. 97, 354–385 (2007).
Barreca, A., Clay, K., Deschênes, O., Greenstone, M. & Shapiro, J. S. Convergence in adaptation to climate change: evidence from high temperatures and mortality, 1900–2004. Am. Econ. Rev. 105, 247–251 (2015).
We acknowledge P. Stainier for excellent research assistance. We received no specific funding for this work.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Primary Handling Editor: Aisha Bradshaw.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Park, R.J., Goodman, J. & Behrer, A.P. Learning is inhibited by heat exposure, both internationally and within the United States. Nat Hum Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-00959-9