Christopher Muller: Lead Exposure and Violent Crime in the Early Twentieth Century


Monday, April 18, 2016, 12:00pm to 1:45pm


Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room

Christopher Muller Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholar, Columbia University. Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley (beginning fall 2016).

Co-authored by  James Feigenbaum, Ph.D. candidate in Economics, Harvard University, and an Inequality & Social Policy doctoral fellow.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, many American cities built water systems using lead or iron service pipes. Municipal water systems generated significant public health improvements, but these improvements may have been partially offset by the damaging effects of lead exposure through lead water pipes.

We study the effect of cities' use of lead pipes on homicide between 1921 and 1936. Lead water pipes exposed entire city populations to much higher doses of lead than have previously been studied in relation to crime. Our estimates suggest that cities' use of lead service pipes considerably increased city-level homicide rates.

View paper

About the speakers

Christopher Muller is currently a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at Columbia University. In the fall of 2016, Muller joins the Sociology Department at the University of California, Berkeley as an Assistant Professor.

Muller, a former Inequality & Social Policy doctoral fellow, earned his Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University in 2014.

He received the 2015 Best Dissertation Award from the American Sociological Association for his dissertation, Historical Origins of Racial Inequality in Incarceration in the United States.

Muller studies the historical origins of racial inequality in incarceration in the United States, the social consequences of mass imprisonment, and the long-term effects of slavery and the economic institutions that succeeded it. He is generally interested in historical approaches to the study of inequality.

He has previously written on the relationship between mass imprisonment and trust in the law, poverty, health, and family life; on tenancy and marriage in the postbellum South; and on the relevance of pragmatist philosophy to sociology. 

James Feigenbaum  is a PhD candidate in the Department of Economics at Harvard University and a doctoral fellow in the Harvard Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy. His primary research interests are in labor economics and economic history.  Feigenbaum is also an affiliate of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard.

See also: Spring 2016