This brief reflection was prompted after reading the Janet Currie's Ely Lecture published in a recent issue of the American Economic Review. Currie summarizes a variety of efforts to quantify how much unequal access there is (particularly in the United States) to good conditions in the womb. She presents suggestive evidence, usually very current statistical techniques, that perhaps one fifth of the gap in the incidence of low birth weight between white college-educated mothers and black high school dropout mothers can be explained by the much greater likelihood that the black mothers live near to toxic-releasing industrial plants. The gap is about 10 percentage points. So two percentage points might be explained by the greater toxic pollution "imbibed" by black mothers. The other eight percentage points presumably attributed to poverty/culture/nutrition etc.
Low birth weight, in turn, is correlated with all sorts of bad life outcomes.
When I read the article I couldn't help but wonder what the gap is in birth weight between American mothers generally and mothers in rural Africa. And then what the life consequences of that still larger gap. That gap won't be made up by public libraries, very much. But one of the causes of the gap is a quiescent citizenry, etc.