Free DP Download 20 March - THE ECONOMIC EFFECTS OF THE 1918 INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC

Friday, March 20, 2020

THE ECONOMIC EFFECTS OF THE 1918 INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC
Elizabeth Brainerd, Mark V Siegler             
CEPR DP No. 3791 | Febraury 2003

A CEPR study by Elizabeth Brainerd and Mark V Siegler examines the impact of the 1918 influenza epidemic on subsequent economic growth using data on US states for the 1919-30 period. The study finds that the epidemic is positively correlated with subsequent economic growth in the United States, even after taking into account differences in population density, urbanisation, levels of income per capita, climate, geography, the sectoral composition of output, human capital accumulation, and the legacy of slavery. The results suggest that one more death per thousand resulted in an average annual increase in the rate of growth of real per capita income over the next ten years of at least 0.15% per year. 

The Influenza Epidemic

  • The influenza epidemic swept the world in three waves: the first in the spring of 1918, the second deadly wave in the fall of 1918, and a third wave that further afflicted some regions in early 1919. 
  • The virus spread quickly across the United States and reached Europe in a matter of weeks, apparently with the arrival of American troop ships. The influenza epidemic swept across Europe and had reached India, Australia and New Zealand by June 1918.
  • The 1918-19 influenza epidemic killed at least 40 million people worldwide and 675,000 people in the United States, far exceeding the combat deaths experienced by the US in the two World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam combined. 
  • Besides its extraordinary virulence, the 1918-19 epidemic was also unique in that a disproportionate number of its victims were men and women ages 15 and 44, giving the age profile of mortality a distinct 'W' shape rather than the customary 'U' shape, and leading to extremely high death rates in the prime working ages. 
  • The male mortality rate for those ages 15 to 44 exceeded the female mortality rate by 50-75% in 1918, in contrast to the non-epidemic years in which the death rates by gender are virtually identical.

Figure 1: US Male and Female Life Expectancy at Birth, 1900-1945


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