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Epidemics and Trust: The Case of the Spanish Flu


  • Arnstein Aassve
  • Guido Alfani
  • Francesco Gandolfi
  • Marco Le Moglie


Recent studies argue that major crises can have long lasting effects on individual behavior. While most studies focused on natural disasters, we explore the consequences of the global pandemic caused by a lethal influenza virus in 1918-19: the so-called “Spanish Flu”. This was by far the worst pandemic of modern history, causing up to 100 million deaths worldwide. Using information about attitudes of respondents to the General Social Survey (GSS), we find evidence that experiencing the pandemic likely had permanent consequences in terms of individuals’ social trust. Our findings suggest that lower social trust was passed on to the descendants of the survivors of the Spanish Flu who migrated to the US. As trust is a crucial factor for long-term economic development, our research offers a new angle from which to assess current health threats. JEL Classification: I15, N3, Z1 Keywords: Epidemic, Generalized trust, Spanish flu, Pandemic, Mortality crisis

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  • Arnstein Aassve & Guido Alfani & Francesco Gandolfi & Marco Le Moglie, 2020. "Epidemics and Trust: The Case of the Spanish Flu," Working Papers 661, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  • Handle: RePEc:igi:igierp:661

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    More about this item


    epidemic; generalized trust; spanish flu; pandemic; mortality crisis;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I15 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Economic Development
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics

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