A tale of trade-offs: the impact of macroeconomic factors on environmental concern.

Research paper by Stephen J SJ Conroy, Tisha L N TL Emerson

Indexed on: 10 Jul '14Published on: 10 Jul '14Published in: Journal of Environmental Management


We test whether macroeconomic conditions affect individuals' willingness to pay for environmental quality improvements.Improvements in environmental quality, like everything, come at a cost. Individuals facing difficult economic times may be less willing to make trade-offs required for improvements in environmental quality. Using somewhat different methodologies and shorter time frames, prior investigations have generally found a direct relationship between willingness to pay for environmental improvements and macroeconomic conditions.We use a nearly 40-year span (27 periods) of the General Social Survey (1974-2012) to estimate attitudes toward environmental spending while controlling for U.S. macroeconomic conditions and respondent-specific factors such as age, gender, marital status, number of children, residential location, educational attainment, personal financial condition, political party affiliation and ideology. Macroeconomic conditions include one-year lagged controls for the unemployment rate, the rate of economic growth (percentage change in real GDP), and an indicator for whether the U.S. economy was experiencing a recession.We find that, in general, when economic conditions are unfavorable (i.e., during a recession, or with higher unemployment, or lower GDP growth), respondents are more likely to believe the U.S. is spending too much on "improving and protecting the environment". Interacting lagged macroeconomic controls with respondent's income, we find that these views are at least partially offset by the respondent's own economic condition (i.e., their own real income).Our findings are consistent with the notion that environmental quality is a normal, or procyclical good, i.e., that environmental spending should rise when the economy is expanding and fall during economic contractions.