Eye disease and development

Available from: 
October 2013
Paper author(s): 
Pablo Selaya (University of Copenhagen)
Thomas Barnebeck Andersen (University of Copenhagen)
Education - Health

This study advances the hypothesis that cross-country variation in the historical incidence of eye disease has influenced the current global distribution of per capita income. The theory is that pervasive eye disease diminished the incentive to accumulate skills, thereby delaying the fertility transition and the take-off to sustained growth in income per capita. In order to gauge the influence from eye disease incidence empirically, we draw on an important fact from the field of epidemiology: Exposure to solar ultraviolet B radiation (UVB-R) is an underlying determinant of several forms of eye disease; the most important being cataract, which is currently the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Using a satellite-based measure of UVB-R, we document - consistent with the proposed hypothesis - that societies more exposed to UVB-R are poorer and underwent the fertility transition with a significant delay compared to the forerunners. These findings are robust to the inclusion of an extensive set of climate and geography controls such as latitude, temperature and precipitation. Moreover, using two global datasets on economic activity for all terrestrial grid cells, we study variation within countries and show that the link between UVB-R and economic development is robust to controlling for country fixed effects.


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Research section: 
Lacea 2013 annual meeting
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