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Water, Race, and Disease

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  • Werner Troesken

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    (University of Pittsburgh)

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    Abstract

    Why, at the peak of the Jim Crow era early in the twentieth century, did life expectancy for African Americans rise dramatically? And why, when public officials were denying African Americans access to many other public services, did public water and sewer service for African Americans improve and expand? Using the qualitative and quantitative tools of demography, economics, geography, history, law, and medicine, Werner Troesken shows that the answers to these questions are closely connected. Arguing that in this case, racism led public officials not to deny services but to improve them -- the only way to "protect" white neighborhoods against waste from black neighborhoods was to install water and sewer systems in both -- Troesken shows that when cities and towns had working water and sewer systems, typhoid and other waterborne diseases were virtually eradicated. This contributed to the great improvements in life expectancy (both in absolute terms and relative to whites) among urban blacks between 1900 and 1940. Citing recent demographic and medical research findings that early exposure to typhoid increases the probability of heart problems later in life, Troesken argues that building water and sewer systems not only reduced waterborne disease rates, it also improved overall health and reduced mortality from other diseases. Troesken draws on many independent sources of evidence, including data from the Negro Mortality Project, econometric analysis of waterborne disease rates in blacks and whites, analysis of case law on discrimination in the provision of municipal services, and maps showing the location of black and white households. He argues that all evidence points to one conclusion: that there was much less discrimination in the provision of public water and sewer systems than would seem likely in the era of Jim Crow.

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    Bibliographic Info

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    This book is provided by The MIT Press in its series MIT Press Books with number 0262201488 and published in 2004.

    Volume: 1
    Edition: 1
    ISBN: 0-262-20148-8
    Handle: RePEc:mtp:titles:0262201488

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    Web page: http://mitpress.mit.edu

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    Cited by:
    1. Robert W. Fogel & Louis Cain & Joseph Burton & Brian Bettenhausen, 2011. "Was What Ail'd Ya' What Kill'd Ya'?," NBER Working Papers 17322, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Werner Troesken, 2010. "Lead, Mortality, and Productivity," Working Papers 424, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Jan 2010.
    3. Barreca, Alan I. & Fishback, Price V. & Kantor, Shawn, 2012. "Agricultural policy, migration, and malaria in the United States in the 1930s," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(4), pages 381-398.
    4. Tamura, Robert & Simon, Curtis & Murphy, Kevin M., 2012. "Black and White Fertility, Differential Baby Booms: The Value of Civil Rights," MPRA Paper 40921, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Carolyn Moehling & Melissa Thomasson, 2014. "Saving Babies: The Impact of Public Education Programs on Infant Mortality," Demography, Springer, vol. 51(2), pages 367-386, April.
    6. Kitchens, Carl, 2013. "The effects of the Works Progress Administration's anti-malaria programs in Georgia 1932–1947," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(4), pages 567-581.
    7. Leander Heldring & James A. Robinson, 2012. "Colonialism and Economic Development in Africa," NBER Working Papers 18566, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Dora Costa, 2013. "Health and the Economy in the United States, from 1750 to the Present," NBER Working Papers 19685, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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