Air Pollution and Elite College Graduates’ Job Location Choice

Will graduates consider the level of air pollution in the destined cities when accepting job offers? 
Is there a tendency of choices? 
Does it vary according to students' degrees? 
- Evidence from Tsinghua University

Air quality is crucial urban livability characteristics that affect behaviors and actions among people daily. As severe air pollution brings significant health and social cost to urban residents, it might also become a factor for decision-making of where to live. 
In China, when college graduates search for their first jobs, they regard air quality as a critical consideration when choosing which city to work in.  


Various media outlets have reported that severe air pollution in China impedes cities’ capacity to recruit and retain talent. 

We want to quantify the impact of air pollution on the job location choice of the highly educated labor force.

We merge air quality data gathered from remote sensing instruments with an administrative dataset of job contract data for graduates from Tsinghua University, one of China’s top 2 universities, from 2005 to 2016.

In order to identify the casual effects of air pollution on job location choice, we introduce city fixed effects and year fixed effects, and control for city’s time-variant local attributes in terms of economic development level, labor demand, living cost, public services, and weather conditions.


We find that air pollution has a significantly negative effect on the probability of elite graduates accepting job offers in a city.

Whether to Stay in Beijing?


When Beijing’s air pollution is much worse than that for other major cities (a higher relative ratio), it significantly reduces the likelihood that students choose to stay in Beijing after graduation.

If the ratio of Beijing’s PM2.5 concentration to other large- and medium-sized cities’ average level increases by 0.1, which indicates worse air quality compared to other cities, the probability of staying in Beijing will decrease by 0.7 percentage point

Which city to move to?


All else equal, if PM2.5 increases by 10 μg/m3, the share of Tsinghua graduates accepting job offers in that city will decrease by 0.23 percentage point.

having a higher level of air pollution is found to have a significantly negative effect on the probability of elite graduates accepting a job offer in a city.

- This “crowding - out” effect is larger and more significant for graduate students than undergraduate.

- Later graduates are influenced by earlier cohorts’ job location choices.

Heterogeneous Effect

- Student Groups

Males, Tsinghua Environmental School graduates, those who grew up in cleaner provinces, and those who major in engineering care more about the air quality of their future city of residence.


- Information Transparency

Given the PM2.5 concentration level, more new reports will further lower the probability that a city is chosen. This means better information transparency will improve students’ knowledge of air pollution in target cities, and further influence their decision choice.

- Trend Throughout Years

Students are becoming less sensitive to air pollution over time. The signal then gives residents an impression that air pollution in urban areas will sooner or later be less of a concern, leading to reduced sensitivity.




Web and Visuals

Siqi Zheng

MIT China Future City Lab, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, 

Center for Real Estate

Xiaonan Zhang 
Hang Lung Center for Real Estate, and Department of Construction Management, Tsinghua

Weizeng Sun
School of Economics, Central University of Finance and Economics

Chengtao Lin 
Career Development Center, Tsinghua University

Siqi Zheng, Xiaonan Zhang, Weizeng Sun, and Chengtao Lin. "Air pollution and elite college graduates’ job location choice: evidence from China" The Annuals of Regional Science.

Icons from the Noun Project

The material on this website can be used freely. We just ask that it is duly credited as a project by MIT China Future City Lab, and a PDF is sent to