Skip to main content
Temperature Extremes, Health, and Human Capital
The Future of Children (2016)
  • Joshua Graff Zivin
  • Jeffrey Shrader, University of California - San Diego

The extreme temperatures expected under climate change may be especially harmful to children. Children are more vulnerable to heat partly because of their physiological features, but, perhaps more important, because they behave and respond differently than adults do. Children are less likely to manage their own heat risk and may have fewer ways to avoid heat; for example, because they don’t plan their own schedules, they typically can’t avoid activity during hot portions of the day. And very young children may not be able to tell adults that they’re feeling heat’s effects.

Joshua Graff Zivin and Jeffrey Shrader zero in on how rising temperatures from global warming can be expected to affect children. They review evidence that high temperatures would mean more deaths, especially among fetuses and young children (as well as the elderly). When combined with other conditions—such as high humidity, diseases, or pollution—heat can be even deadlier. Even when it doesn’t kill, high heat directly causes heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion; worsens other conditions, such as asthma, by increasing smog and ozone pollution; and harms fetuses in the womb, often with long-term consequences. High temperatures can also make learning more difficult, affecting children’s adult job prospects.
What can we do to protect children from a hotter climate? Graff Zivin and Shrader discuss a range of policies that could help. Such policies include requiring air conditioning in schools; heat wave warning systems coupled with public infrastructure that helps people stay indoors and stay cool; and readjusting schedules so that, for example, children are mostly indoors during the hottest time of day or the hottest season of the year.
Publication Date
Spring 2016
Citation Information
Joshua Graff Zivin and Jeffrey Shrader. "Temperature Extremes, Health, and Human Capital" The Future of Children Vol. 26 Iss. 1 (2016) p. 31 - 50
Available at: