My research focuses on topics in environmental economics, public health, and economic history. In my dissertation I measure the external social costs of atomic testing at the Nevada Test Site and explore how radioactive pollution from these tests altered health and economic outcomes for American populations.
Meyers, K. (2019). In the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud: Nuclear Testing, Radioactive Fallout, and Damage to U.S. Agriculture, 1945 to 1970. The Journal of Economic History, 79(1), 244-274. doi:10.1017/S002205071800075X
Measuring Policy’s Role in Mediating Responses to Agricultural Productivity Shocks
As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, policy's role in shaping producer responses to adverse shocks becomes more relevant. Contemporary agricultural policies such as crop insurance are often tied to farmers’ production histories. Using changes in agricultural productivity caused by radioactive fallout from nuclear testing between 1951 to 1958, I find such “use-it or lose-it” policies can encourage producers to divert resources toward rather than away from adversely affected crops. These policies encouraged farmers to “double down” on adversely affected crops, and led producers to plant an additional 2.6 million acres of wheat in the years following fallout exposure. This result suggests treating policy as a fixed factor may obscure the role policy plays in shaping producer behavior. This could cause researchers to misstate the social costs of disruptive events such as climate change. Paper link.
Some Unintended Fallout from Defense Policy: Measuring the Effect of Atmospheric Nuclear Testing on American Mortality Patterns, updated 3-7-2019
To better understand the health and social costs associated with radioactive pollution and nuclear weapons development, I study a historical period of atmospheric nuclear testing in the 1950s. Using records measuring annual county level fallout patterns for the continental U.S., I analyze how radioactive fallout affects public health in vital statistics records. I find that atmospheric nuclear testing performed in Nevada contributed to substantial and prolonged increases in overall mortality and cancer mortality. These increases in mortality occur over a broader geographic region than previous research would suggest. Paper Link. Appendix.
Paralyzed by Panic: Measuring the Effect of School Closures during the 1916 Polio Pandemic on Educational Attainment with Melissa Thomasson. NBER working paper w23890.
We leverage the 1916 polio pandemic in the United States as a natural experiment to test whether short-term school closures result in reduced educational attainment as an adult. With over 23,000 cases of polio diagnosed in 1916, officials implemented quarantines and closed schools. Since the pandemic occurred during the start of the 1916 school year, children of working age may have elected not to return to school. Using state-level polio morbidity as a proxy for schooling disruptions, we find that children ages 14-17 during the pandemic had less educational attainment in 1940 compared to their slightly older peers.
Work in Progress:
U.S. County Level Cause of Death Panel Construction for 1946 to 1958 (to append current machine readable records for 1959 to 1988). Current Progress: Years 1946, 1947, and 1950 to 1958 coded. In process of cleaning. Cancer deaths are complete for 1946 to 1958.
Hybrid Corn Adoption in Response to 1930s Drought Stress, with Paul Rhode
Measuring the Indirect Benefits of the 1954 Salk Polio Vaccine Trial. Current Progress: County level Salk Vaccine Trial records coded.