The Impact of Iodine Deficiency Eradication on Schooling: Evidence from the Introduction of Iodized Salt in Switzerland
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This paper examines the impact of salt iodization in Switzerland in the 1920s and 1930s on schooling outcomes. Iodine deficiency in utero causes mental retardation, and correcting the deficiency is expected to increase the productivity of a population by increasing its cognitive ability. The exogenous increase in cognitive ability brought about by the iodization program is also useful in the context of disentangling the effects of innate ability and education in later-life outcomes. I identify the impact of iodization in three ways: first, in a differences-in-differences framework, I exploit geographic variation in iodine deficiency, as well as the fact that the nationwide campaign to decrease iodine deficiency began in 1922. Second, I use spatial and temporal variation in the introduction of iodized salt across Swiss cantons, and examine whether the level of iodized salt sales at the time of one’s birth affected one’s educational attainment. Third, I employ a fuzzy regression discontinuity design and use jumps in sales of iodized salt across Swiss cantons to identify the effect of iodization, by comparing outcomes for those born right before and right after these sudden changes in the treatment environment. These approaches indicate that the eradication of iodine deficiency in previously deficient areas increased the schooling of the population significantly. The effects are larger for females than for males, which is consistent with medical evidence showing that women are more likely to be affected by iodine deficiency disorders than men.