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Typhoid Fever, Water Quality, and Human Capital Formation

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  • Brian Beach
  • Joseph Ferrie
  • Martin Saavedra
  • Werner Troesken
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    Abstract

    Investment in water purification technologies led to large mortality declines by helping eradicate typhoid fever and other waterborne diseases. This paper seeks to understand how these technologies affected human capital formation. We use typhoid fatality rates during early life as a proxy for water quality. To carry out the analysis, city-level data are merged with a unique dataset linking individuals between the 1900 and 1940 censuses. Parametric and semi-parametric estimates suggest that eradicating early-life exposure to typhoid fever would have increased earnings in later life by 1% and increased educational attainment by one month. Instrumenting for typhoid fever using the typhoid rates from cities that lie upstream produces similar results. A simple cost-benefit analysis indicates that the increase in earnings from eradicating typhoid fever was more than sufficient to offset the costs of eradication.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 20279.

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    Date of creation: Jul 2014
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    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20279

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    1. Ferrie, Joseph P. & Troesken, Werner, 2008. "Water and Chicago's mortality transition, 1850-1925," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 1-16, January.
    2. Douglas Almond & Janet Currie, 2010. "Human Capital Development Before Age Five," NBER Working Papers 15827, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Douglas Almond & Janet Currie & Mariesa Herrmann, 2011. "From Infant to Mother: Early Disease Environment and Future Maternal Health," NBER Working Papers 17676, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Janet Currie & Joshua S. Graff Zivin & Katherine Meckel & Matthew J. Neidell & Wolfram Schlenker, 2013. "Something in the Water: Contaminated Drinking Water and Infant Health," NBER Working Papers 18876, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. David Cutler & Grant Miller, 2005. "The role of public health improvements in health advances: The twentieth-century United States," Demography, Springer, Springer, vol. 42(1), pages 1-22, February.
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