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Social Adaptation to Diseases and Inequality: Historical Evidence from Malaria in Italy


  • Paolo Buonanno
  • Elena Esposito
  • Giorgio Gulino


Disease and epidemics have been a constant presence throughout the history of humanity. In order to mitigate the risks of contagion, societies have long “adapted” to diseases, implementing an array of coping strategies that, in the long run, have had considerable economic and social consequences. This article advances the hypothesis, and documents empirically, that the need to alleviate the dangers of malaria shaped all aspects of life in agricultural communities, from where and how people settled, to how and what they could farm. As larger farms were better equipped to adopt these risk-mitigating strategies, centuries of exposure to malaria had important implications for inequality and wealth distribution.

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  • Paolo Buonanno & Elena Esposito & Giorgio Gulino, 2020. "Social Adaptation to Diseases and Inequality: Historical Evidence from Malaria in Italy," Working Papers 1220, Barcelona School of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:bge:wpaper:1220

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alexandre Belloni & Victor Chernozhukov & Christian Hansen, 2014. "High-Dimensional Methods and Inference on Structural and Treatment Effects," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 28(2), pages 29-50, Spring.
    2. Flückiger, Matthias & Ludwig, Markus, 2017. "Malaria suitability, urbanization and persistence: Evidence from China over more than 2000 years," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 146-160.
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    More about this item


    land concentration; Inequality; malaria; diseases; human capital; long-run development;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative

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