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

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

This paper studies the contribution of sulfa drugs, a groundbreaking medical innovation in the 1930s, to declines in US mortality. For several infectious diseases, sulfa drugs represented the first effective treatment. Using time-series and difference-in-differences methods, we find that sulfa drugs led to a 24 to 36 percent decline in maternal mortality, 17 to 32 percent decline in pneumonia mortality, and 52 to 65 percent decline in scarlet fever mortality between 1937 and 1943. Altogether, sulfa drugs reduced mortality by 2 to 3 percent and increased life expectancy by 0.4 to 0.7 years. We also find that sulfa drugs benefited whites more than blacks. (JEL I12, L65, N32, N72)

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

Volume (Year): 2 (2010)
Issue (Month): 2 (April)
Pages: 118-46

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aejapp:v:2:y:2010:i:2:p:118-46
Note: DOI: 10.1257/app.2.2.118
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  1. Donald W. K. Andrews, 2003. "Tests for Parameter Instability and Structural Change with Unknown Change Point: A Corrigendum," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(1), pages 395-397, January.
  2. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 249-275, February.
  3. Perron, P, 1988. "The Great Crash, The Oil Price Shock And The Unit Root Hypothesis," Papers 338, Princeton, Department of Economics - Econometric Research Program.
  4. Samuel H. Preston & Michael R. Haines, 1991. "Fatal Years: Child Mortality in Late Nineteenth-Century America," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number pres91-1, June.
  5. Thomasson, Melissa A. & Treber, Jaret, 2008. "From home to hospital: The evolution of childbirth in the United States, 1928-1940," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 76-99, January.
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