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Pollution, Infectious Disease, and Mortality: Evidence from the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic

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  • Karen Clay
  • Joshua Lewis
  • Edson Severnini

Abstract

The 1918 Influenza Pandemic killed millions worldwide and hundreds of thousands in the United States. This paper studies the impact of air pollution on pandemic mortality. The analysis combines a panel dataset on infant and all-age mortality with a novel measure of air pollution based on the burning of coal in a large sample of U.S. cities. We estimate that air pollution contributed significantly to pandemic mortality. Cities that used more coal experienced tens of thousands of excess deaths in 1918 relative to cities that used less coal with similar pre-pandemic socioeconomic conditions and baseline health. Factors related to poverty, public health, and the timing of onset also affected pandemic mortality. The findings support recent medical evidence on the link between air pollution and influenza infection, and suggest that poor air quality was an important cause of mortality during the pandemic.

Suggested Citation

  • Karen Clay & Joshua Lewis & Edson Severnini, 2015. "Pollution, Infectious Disease, and Mortality: Evidence from the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic," NBER Working Papers 21635, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21635
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    1. Eva Arceo & Rema Hanna & Paulina Oliva, 2016. "Does the Effect of Pollution on Infant Mortality Differ Between Developing and Developed Countries? Evidence from Mexico City," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 126(591), pages 257-280, March.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I15 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Economic Development
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • N52 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • Q40 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - General
    • Q53 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Air Pollution; Water Pollution; Noise; Hazardous Waste; Solid Waste; Recycling

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