Can Natural Experiments Measure Behavioral Responses to Environmental Risks?

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Efforts to measure people’s responses to spatially delineated risks confront the potential for correlation between these risks and other, unobserved characteristics of these locations. The possibility of correlation arises in part because individuals observe other locational attributes that can be expected to influence the hedonic equilibrium. One response to this problem is to use events from nature to exploit both temporal and spatial variation in the behavioral responses of interest. This paper evaluates the use of hurricanes as a source of new risk information to households in coastal counties potentially subject to the effects of these storms. We study the extent to which housing prices before and after hurricane Andrew, a hurricane with unprecedented property loss, reveal how Floridians responded to the risk information provided by the storm. Two counties are selected – one without and another with damage from the hurricane. To evaluate the plausibility of using quasi-random experiments for locations not directly affected by natural events, we compare Lee County’s results to those of Dade County, where the majority of the damage occurred. Our findings suggest, after controlling for ex post storm damage and changes in insurance markets, there is a reasonably high level of consistency in a repeat sales model’s ability to estimate the effects of the risk information conveyed by the storm for both counties.

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