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Death and the City: Chicago's Mortality Transition, 1850-1925

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  • Joseph P. Ferrie
  • Werner Troesken

Abstract

Between 1850 and 1925, the crude death rate in Chicago fell by 60 percent, driven by reductions in infectious disease rates and infant and child mortality. What lessons might be drawn from the mortality transition in Chicago, and American cities more generally? What were the policies that had the greatest effect on infectious diseases and childhood mortality? Were there local policies that slowed the mortality transition? If the transition to low mortality in American cities was driven by forces largely outside the control of local governments (higher per capita incomes or increases in the amount and quality of calories available to urban dwellers from rising agricultural productivity), then expensive public health projects, such as the construction of public water and sewer systems, probably should have taken a back seat to broader national policies to promote overall economic growth. The introduction of pure water explains between 30 and 50 percent of Chicago%u2019s mortality decline, and that other interventions, such as the introduction of the diphtheria antitoxin and milk inspection had much smaller effects. These findings have important implications for current policy debates and economic development strategies.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph P. Ferrie & Werner Troesken, 2005. "Death and the City: Chicago's Mortality Transition, 1850-1925," NBER Working Papers 11427, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11427
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Dora Costa, 2000. "Understanding the twentieth-century decline in chronic conditions among older men," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 37(1), pages 53-72, February.
    2. Lee, Lung-fei & Rosenzweig, Mark R. & Pitt, Mark M., 1997. "The effects of improved nutrition, sanitation, and water quality on child health in high-mortality populations," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 77(1), pages 209-235, March.
    3. David M. Cutler & Grant Miller, 2004. "The Role of Public Health Improvements in Health Advances: The 20th Century United States," NBER Working Papers 10511, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Cha, Myung Soo & Kim, Nak Nyeon, 2012. "Korea's first industrial revolution, 1911–1940," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 60-74.
    2. Siqi Zheng & Matthew E. Kahn, 2013. "Understanding China's Urban Pollution Dynamics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 51(3), pages 731-772, September.
    3. Charles Kenny, 2006. "Were People in the Past Poor and Miserable?," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 59(2), pages 275-306, May.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • N9 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History

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    1. Historical Economic Geography

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