Structural Dynamics of International Trade and Material Consumption: A Cross-National Study of the Ecological Footprints of Less-Developed Countries

Andrew A. Jorgenson, James Rice


Many social scientists argue that more-developed countries externalize their environmental costs through the tapping of resources of less-developed countries, which reduces levels of consumption in the latter while increasing forms of environmental degradation within their borders. However, these assertions lack systematic empirical support. This study offers a new conceptualization of the structure of international trade that may help to partly resolve this issue: weighted export flows, which quantifies the relative extent to which exports are sent to higher-consuming, more-developed countries. Our hypothesis is that less-developed countries with higher levels of exports sent to more-developed countries exhibit lower domestic levels of resource consumption, measured as ecological footprints. In a series of regression models of per capita ecological footprints for less-developed countries in 2000, evidence is found supporting the hypothesis. The negative effect of weighted export flows on the per capita footprints of nations is robust, net of the often cited impacts of capital intensity, urbanization, domestic inequality, human capital, and other export-related characteristics. Results of this study provide empirical evidence of the environmental impacts of the structure of international trade and outline a new methodological approach to studying uneven ecological exchange.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Andrew A. Jorgenson, James Rice

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