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Modern Medicine and the 20th Century Decline in Mortality: Evidence on the Impact of Sulfa Drugs

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  • Seema Jayachandran
  • Adriana Lleras-Muney
  • Kimberly V. Smith

Abstract

This paper studies the contribution of sulfa drugs, a groundbreaking medical innovation in the 1930s, to declines in U.S. mortality. For several often-fatal infectious diseases, sulfa drugs represented the first effective treatment. Using time-series and difference-in-differences methods (with diseases unaffected by sulfa drugs as a comparison group), we find that sulfa drugs led to a 25 to 40 percent decline in maternal mortality, 17 to 36 percent decline in pneumonia mortality, and 52 to 67 percent decline in scarlet-fever mortality between 1937 and 1943. Altogether, they reduced mortality by 2 to 4 percent and increased life expectancy by 0.4 to 0.8 years. We also find that sulfa drugs benefited whites more than blacks.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15089.

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Date of creation: Jun 2009
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Publication status: published as “Modern Medicine and the 20th-Century Decline in Mortality: Evidence on the Impact of Sulfa Drugs,” (with A. Lleras-Muney and K. Smith), American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2(2), April 2010, pp. 118-146
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15089

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Cited by:
  1. Esther Duflo, 2011. "Women’s Empowerment and Economic Development," NBER Working Papers 17702, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. repec:hka:wpaper:2013-05 is not listed on IDEAS
  3. Bhalotra, Sonia & Venkataramani, Atheendar, 2011. "Is The Captain of the Men of Death Still At Play? Long-Run Impacts of Early Life Pneumonia Exposure during Sulfa Drug Revolution in America," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Berlin 2011 10, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
  4. Sonia Bhalotra & Atheendar Venkataramani, 2011. "The Captain of the Men of Death and His Shadow: Long-Run Impacts of Early Life Pneumonia Exposure," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 11/273, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  5. Stefania Albanesi, 2013. "Maternal Health and Fertility: An International Perspective," Working Papers 2013-005, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.

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