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Death and the Media: Asymmetries in Infectious Disease Reporting During the Health Transition

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Listed:
  • Dora L. Costa
  • Matthew E. Kahn

Abstract

In the late 19th Century, cities in Western Europe and the United States suffered from high levels of infectious disease. Over a 40 year period, there was a dramatic decline in infectious disease deaths in cities. As such objective progress in urban quality of life took place, how did the media report this trend? At that time newspapers were the major source of information educating urban households about the risks they faced. By constructing a unique panel data base, we find that news reports were positively associated with government announced typhoid mortality counts and the size of this effect actually grew after the local governments made large investments in public goods intended to reduce typhoid rates. News coverage was more responsive to unexpected increases in death rates than to unexpected decreases in death rates. Together, these facts suggest that consumers find bad news is more useful than good news.

Suggested Citation

  • Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn, 2015. "Death and the Media: Asymmetries in Infectious Disease Reporting During the Health Transition," NBER Working Papers 21073, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21073
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w21073.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Werner Troesken, 2004. "Water, Race, and Disease," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number troe04-1, July-Dec.
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    3. Stefano DellaVigna & Ethan Kaplan, 2007. "The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(3), pages 1187-1234.
    4. Kesztenbaum, Lionel & Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent, 2011. "The health cost of living in a city: The case of France at the end of the 19th century," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 207-225, April.
    5. Matthew Gentzkow & Nathan Petek & Jesse M. Shapiro & Michael Sinkinson, 2015. "Do Newspapers Serve The State? Incumbent Party Influence On The Us Press, 1869–1928," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 13(1), pages 29-61, February.
    6. Ehrlich, Isaac & Becker, Gary S, 1972. "Market Insurance, Self-Insurance, and Self-Protection," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 80(4), pages 623-648, July-Aug..
    7. Matthew Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro & Michael Sinkinson, 2014. "Competition and Ideological Diversity: Historical Evidence from US Newspapers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(10), pages 3073-3114, October.
    8. Troesken, Werner, 1999. "Typhoid Rates and the Public Acquisition of Private Waterwork, 1880–1920," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 59(04), pages 927-948, December.
    9. Matthew Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2008. "Competition and Truth in the Market for News," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 133-154, Spring.
    10. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    11. 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.
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    Citations

    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Two November Days at the University of Chicago
      by Matthew Kahn in Environmental and Urban Economics on 2015-11-09 01:56:00
    2. Death and the Media
      by Matthew Kahn in Environmental and Urban Economics on 2015-12-11 08:30:00
    3. Some Optimism in the NY Times
      by Matthew Kahn in Environmental and Urban Economics on 2016-03-08 03:50:00
    4. Will a News Surge in San Francisco Nudge Local Officials to Tackle the Homeless Challenge?
      by Matthew Kahn in Environmental and Urban Economics on 2016-05-17 06:01:00
    5. My Advice for the NY Times as it Searches for a "Climate Change Editor"
      by Matthew Kahn in Environmental and Urban Economics on 2016-08-27 20:48:00

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn, 2015. "Declining Mortality Inequality within Cities during the Health Transition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(5), pages 564-569, May.
    2. repec:oup:revfin:v:22:y:2018:i:4:p:1605-1629. is not listed on IDEAS
    3. John D Turner & Qing Ye & Clive B Walker, 2018. "Media Coverage and Stock Returns on the London Stock Exchange, 1825–70," Review of Finance, European Finance Association, vol. 22(4), pages 1605-1629.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I19 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Other
    • L82 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Entertainment; Media
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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