Increase in fertility following coal and oil power plant retirements in California

Joan A. Casey, Alison Gemmill, Deborah Karasek, Elizabeth L. Ogburn, Dana E. Goin, Rachel Morello-Frosch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Few studies have explored the relationship between air pollution and fertility. We used a natural experiment in California when coal and oil power plants retired to estimate associations with nearby fertility rates. Methods: We used a difference-in-differences negative binomial model on the incident rate ratio scale to analyze the change in annual fertility rates among California mothers living within 0-5 km and 5-10 km of 8 retired power plants between 2001 and 2011. The difference-in-differences method isolates the portion of the pre- versus post-retirement contrast in the 0-5 km and 5-10 km bins, respectively, that is due to retirement rather than secular trends. We controlled for secular trends with mothers living 10-20 km away. Adjusted models included fixed effects for power plant, proportion Hispanic, Black, high school educated, and aged > 30 years mothers, and neighborhood poverty and educational attainment. Results: Analyses included 58,909 live births. In adjusted models, we estimated that after power plant retirement annual fertility rates per 1000 women aged 15-44 years increased by 8 births within 5 km and 2 births within 5-10 km of power plants, corresponding to incident rate ratios of 1.2 (95% CI: 1.1-1.4) and 1.1 (95% CI: 1.0-1.2), respectively. We implemented a negative exposure control by randomly selecting power plants that did not retire and repeating our analysis with those locations using the retirement dates from original 8 power plants. There was no association, suggesting that statewide temporal trends may not account for results. Conclusions: Fertility rates among nearby populations appeared to increase after coal and oil power plant retirements. Our study design limited the possibility that our findings resulted from temporal trends or changes in population composition. These results require confirmation in other populations, given known methodological limitations of ecologic study designs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number44
JournalEnvironmental Health: A Global Access Science Source
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2 2018


  • Birth certificates
  • California
  • Coal
  • Environmental epidemiology
  • Fertility
  • Live birth
  • Natural experiment
  • Power plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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