March 2024

IZA DP No. 16863: Still Waters Run Deep: Groundwater Contamination and Education Outcomes in India

Khushboo Aggarwal, Rashmi Barua, Marian Vidal-Fernandez

We investigate the impact of groundwater contamination on educational outcomes in India. Our study leverages variations in the geographical coverage and timing of construction of safe government piped water schemes to identify the effects of exposure to contaminants. Using self-collected survey data from public schools in Assam, one of the most groundwater-contaminated regions in India, we find that prolonged exposure to unsafe groundwater is associated with increased school absenteeism, grade retention, and decreased test scores and Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA). To complement our findings and to study the effect of one such contaminant, arsenic, we use a large nationally representative household survey. Using variations in soil textures across districts as an instrument for arsenic concentration levels we find that exposure to arsenic beyond safe threshold levels is negatively associated with school attendance.