The Economic Effects of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic
The 1918-19 influenza epidemic killed at least 40 million people worldwide and 675,000 people in the United States, far exceeding the combat deaths experienced by the US in the two World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam combined. Besides its extraordinary virulence, the 1918-19 epidemic was also unique in that a disproportionate number of its victims were men and women ages 15 and 44, giving the age profile of mortality a distinct ‘W’ shape rather than the customary ‘U’ shape, and leading to extremely high death rates in the prime working ages. We examine the impact of this exogenous shock on subsequent economic growth using data on US states for the 1919-30 period. Controlling for numerous factors including initial income, density, urbanization, human capital, climate, the sectoral composition of output, geography, and the legacy of slavery, the results indicate a large and robust positive effect of the influenza epidemic on per capita income growth across states during the 1920s.
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