New evidence on the impact of sustained exposure to air pollution on life expectancy from China’s Huai River Policy

Avraham Ebenstein, Maoyong Fan, Michael Greenstone*, Guojun He, Maigeng Zhou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

426 Scopus citations


This paper finds that a 10-μg/m3 increase in airborne particulate matter [particulate matter smaller than 10 μm (PM10)] reduces life expectancy by 0.64 years (95% confidence interval = 0.21–1.07). This estimate is derived from quasiexperimental variation in PM10 generated by China’s Huai River Policy, which provides free or heavily subsidized coal for indoor heating during the winter to cities north of the Huai River but not to those to the south. The findings are derived from a regression discontinuity design based on distance from the Huai River, and they are robust to using parametric and nonparametric estimation methods, different kernel types and bandwidth sizes, and adjustment for a rich set of demographic and behavioral covariates. Furthermore, the shorter lifespans are almost entirely caused by elevated rates of cardiorespiratory mortality, suggesting that PM10 is the causal factor. The estimates imply that bringing all of China into compliance with its Class I standards for PM10 would save 3.7 billion life-years.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)10384-10389
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
StatePublished - 26 Sep 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. We thank our seminar participants and colleagues for their insightful comments, including Songnian Chen, Rema Hanna, Douglas Miller, Paulina Oliva, and Nicholas Sanders. Faraz Hayat, Harshil Sahai, Patrick Schwarz, and Dan Stuart provided outstanding research assistance. This study is supported by China National Science and Technology Pillar Program 2013 Grant 2013BAI04B02 from the Ministry of Science and Technology and a School-Based Initiatives Research Grant from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Airborne particulate matter
  • China
  • Huai River
  • Life expectancy
  • Regression discontinuity


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