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Modern Medicine and the 20th Century Decline in Mortality: Evidence on the Impact of Sulfa Drugs

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  • Seema Jayachandran
  • Adriana Lleras-Muney
  • Kimberly V. Smith

Abstract

This paper studies the contribution of sulfa drugs, a groundbreaking medical innovation in the 1930s, to declines in U.S. mortality. For several often-fatal infectious diseases, sulfa drugs represented the first effective treatment. Using time-series and difference-in-differences methods (with diseases unaffected by sulfa drugs as a comparison group), we find that sulfa drugs led to a 25 to 40 percent decline in maternal mortality, 17 to 36 percent decline in pneumonia mortality, and 52 to 67 percent decline in scarlet-fever mortality between 1937 and 1943. Altogether, they reduced mortality by 2 to 4 percent and increased life expectancy by 0.4 to 0.8 years. We also find that sulfa drugs benefited whites more than blacks.

Suggested Citation

  • Seema Jayachandran & Adriana Lleras-Muney & Kimberly V. Smith, 2009. "Modern Medicine and the 20th Century Decline in Mortality: Evidence on the Impact of Sulfa Drugs," NBER Working Papers 15089, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15089
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Samuel H. Preston & Michael R. Haines, 1991. "Fatal Years: Child Mortality in Late Nineteenth-Century America," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number pres91-1, January.
    2. Fogel, Robert W, 1994. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 369-395, June.
    3. Perron, Pierre, 1989. "The Great Crash, the Oil Price Shock, and the Unit Root Hypothesis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(6), pages 1361-1401, November.
    4. Sherry Glied & Adriana Lleras-Muney, 2008. "Technological innovation and inequality in health," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 45(3), pages 741-761, August.
    5. Andrews, Donald W K, 1993. "Tests for Parameter Instability and Structural Change with Unknown Change Point," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(4), pages 821-856, July.
    6. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-In-Differences Estimates?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(1), pages 249-275.
    7. David Cutler & Grant Miller, 2005. "The role of public health improvements in health advances: The twentieth-century United States," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 42(1), pages 1-22, February.
    8. Melissa A. Thomasson & Jaret Treber, 2004. "From Home to Hospital: The Evolution of Childbirth in the United States, 1927-1940," NBER Working Papers 10873, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Bhalotra, Sonia R. & Venkataramani, Atheendar, 2013. "Cognitive Development and Infectious Disease: Gender Differences in Investments and Outcomes," IZA Discussion Papers 7833, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Stefania Albanesi & Claudia Olivetti, 2014. "Maternal health and the baby boom," Quantitative Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 5, pages 225-269, July.
    3. Esther Duflo, 2012. "Women Empowerment and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(4), pages 1051-1079, December.
    4. Bhalotra, Sonia & Venkataramani, Atheendar, 2011. "Is The Captain of the Men of Death Still At Play? Long-Run Impacts of Early Life Pneumonia Exposure during Sulfa Drug Revolution in America," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Berlin 2011 10, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
    5. Sonia Bhalotra & Atheendar Venkataramani, 2011. "The Captain of the Men of Death and His Shadow: Long-Run Impacts of Early Life Pneumonia Exposure," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 11/273, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
    6. Stefania Albanesi, 2013. "Maternal Health and Fertility: An International Perspective," Working Papers 2013-005, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    7. repec:esx:essedp:745 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. repec:hka:wpaper:2013-05 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Grant Miller & B. Piedad Urdinola, 2010. "Cyclicality, Mortality, and the Value of Time: The Case of Coffee Price Fluctuations and Child Survival in Colombia," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(1), pages 113-155, February.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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