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Water, Race, and Disease

Author

Listed:
  • Werner Troesken

    () (University of Pittsburgh)

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Werner Troesken, 2004. "Water, Race, and Disease," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262201488, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:mtp:titles:0262201488
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Brian Beach & Werner Troesken & Nicola Tynan, 2016. "Who Should Own and Control Urban Water Systems? Historical Evidence from England and Wales," NBER Working Papers 22553, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Dora L. Costa, 2015. "Health and the Economy in the United States from 1750 to the Present," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 53(3), pages 503-570, September.
    3. Feigenbaum, James J. & Muller, Christopher, 2016. "Lead exposure and violent crime in the early twentieth century," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 51-86.
    4. Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn, 2015. "Death and the Media: Asymmetries in Infectious Disease Reporting During the Health Transition," NBER Working Papers 21073, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Carolyn Moehling & Melissa Thomasson, 2014. "Saving Babies: The Impact of Public Education Programs on Infant Mortality," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), 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. 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.
    8. Alan I. Barreca, 2010. "The Long-Term Economic Impact of In Utero and Postnatal Exposure to Malaria," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 45(4), pages 865-892.
    9. 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.
    10. Fogel, Robert W. & Cain, Louis & Burton, Joseph & Bettenhausen, Brian, 2013. "Was what ail’d ya what kill’d ya?," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 269-280.
    11. Gregory Pierce & Silvia Jimenez, 2015. "Unreliable Water Access in U.S. Mobile Homes: Evidence From the American Housing Survey," Housing Policy Debate, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 25(4), pages 739-753, October.
    12. Kevin M. Murphy & Curtis Simon & Robert Tamura, 2008. "Fertility Decline, Baby Boom, and Economic Growth," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(3), pages 262-302.
    13. Leah Boustan & Robert A. Margo, 2014. "Racial Differences in Health in Long-Run Perspective: A Brief Introduction," NBER Working Papers 20765, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. repec:pit:wpaper:424 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Leander Heldring & James A. Robinson, 2012. "Colonialism and Economic Development in Africa," NBER Working Papers 18566, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • N91 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N92 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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