The Impact of Water Quality on Health and Youth Education in Rural China

Philippines Conference Room
  • Jing Zhang

Providing people with safe drinking water is one of the most important health-related infrastructure programs in the world. The first part of our research investigates the effect of a major water quality improvement program in rural China on the health of adults and children. Using panel data covering about 4500 households from 1989 to 2006, we estimate the impact of introducing village-level access to water from water plants on various measures of health. The regression results imply that the illness incidence of adults decreased by 11 percent and their weight-for-height increased by 0.835 kg/m, and that children's weight-for-height and height itself both rose by 0.446 kg/m and 0.962 cm respectively, as a result of the program. And these estimates are quite stable across different robustness checks.

While the previous research has shown health benefit of safe drinking water program, we know little about the longer-term benefits such as education. The second part of our research examines the youth education benefits of this major drinking water infrastructure program. By employing a longitudinal dataset with around 12,000 individual observations aged between 16 and 25, we find that this health program has benefited their education substantially: increasing the grades of education completed by 0.9 years and their probabilities of graduating from a lower and upper middle schools by around 18 and 89 percent, respectively. These estimation results are robust to a host of robustness checks, such as controlling for educational policy and local resources (by including county-year fixed effects), village distance to schools, local labor market conditions, educational demand, instrumenting the water treatment dummy with topographic variables, among others. Our estimates suggest that this program is highly cost-effective.

Jing Zhang, an assistant professor, received her PhD from the University of Maryland in 2011, and joined Renmin University of China in the same year. Prior to that, she worked at the World Bank from 2010 to 2011. The focus of her research lies in health economics and public finance. Her publications include: “The Impact of Water Quality on Health: Evidence from the Drinking Water Infrastructure Program in Rural China,” Journal of Health Economics (2012) and “Soft Budget Constraints in China: Evidence from the Guangdong Hospital Industry,” International Journal of Healthcare Finance and Economics (2009).