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Fetal Shock or Selection? The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and Human Capital Development


  • Brian Beach
  • Joseph P. Ferrie
  • Martin H. Saavedra


Almond (2006) argues that in-utero exposure to the 1918 influenza pandemic lowered socioeconomic status in adulthood, whereas subsequent work has argued that exposed cohorts may have been selected. We bring new evidence on the lasting impact of in-utero exposure to the pandemic. Linking census microdata to WWII enlistment records and city-level influenza data allows us to adopt an empirical approach that exploits pandemic intensity as a source of identifying variation. We show that pandemic intensity is less related to parental characteristics, suggesting this approach can more credibly be interpreted as causal. Our results indicate that in-utero exposure to the pandemic lowered high school graduation rates.

Suggested Citation

  • Brian Beach & Joseph P. Ferrie & Martin H. Saavedra, 2018. "Fetal Shock or Selection? The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and Human Capital Development," NBER Working Papers 24725, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:24725
    Note: AG CH DAE HE LS

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    RePEc Biblio mentions

    As found on the RePEc Biblio, the curated bibliography for Economics:
    1. > Economics of Welfare > Health Economics > Economics of Pandemics > Consequences > Health and human capital
    2. > Economics of Welfare > Health Economics > Economics of Pandemics > Specific pandemics > Spanish Influenza


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Brzezinski, Adam & Deiana, Guido & Kecht, Valentin & Van Dijcke, David, 2020. "The COVID-19 Pandemic: Government vs. Community Action Across the United States," INET Oxford Working Papers 2020-06, Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.
    2. Slusky, David J.G. & Zeckhauser, Richard J., 2021. "Sunlight and Protection Against Influenza," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 40(C).
    3. Jonas Helgertz & Tommy Bengtsson, 2019. "The Long-Lasting Influenza: The Impact of Fetal Stress During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic on Socioeconomic Attainment and Health in Sweden, 1968–2012," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 56(4), pages 1389-1425, August.
    4. Viinikainen, Jutta & Bryson, Alex & Böckerman, Petri & Elovainio, Marko & Hutri-Kähönen, Nina & Juonala, Markus & Lehtimäki, Terho & Pahkala, Katja & Rovio, Suvi & Pulkki-Råback, Laura & Raitakari, Ol, 2020. "Do childhood infections affect labour market outcomes in adulthood and, if so, how?," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 37(C).
    5. Michele Valsecchi & Ruben Durante, 2020. "Internal migration and the spread of Covid-19," Working Papers w0276, New Economic School (NES).
    6. Guven, Cahit & Sotirakopoulos, Panagiotis & Ulker, Aydogan, 2020. "Short-term Labour Market Effects of COVID-19 and the Associated National Lockdown in Australia: Evidence from Longitudinal Labour Force Survey," GLO Discussion Paper Series 635, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    7. Arthi, Vellore & Parman, John, 2021. "Disease, downturns, and wellbeing: Economic history and the long-run impacts of COVID-19," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 79(C).
    8. Ilan Noy & Toshihiro Okubo & Eric Strobl, 2020. "The Japanese Textile Sector and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1920," CESifo Working Paper Series 8651, CESifo.
    9. Daniel de Kadt & Johan Fourie & Jan Greyling & Elie Murard & Johannes Norling, 2021. "Correlates and Consequences of the 1918 Influenza in South Africa," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 89(2), pages 173-195, June.
    10. Al-Ubaydli, Omar, 2020. "Understanding How the Coronavirus Affects the Global Economy: A Guide for Non-Economists," MPRA Paper 99642, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    11. Cormac Ó Gráda, 2019. "Economic History: «An Isthmus Joining Two Great Continents»?," Rivista di storia economica, Società editrice il Mulino, issue 1, pages 81-120.
    12. Gabriella Conti & Giacomo Mason & Stavros Poupakis, 2019. "Developmental origins of health inequality," IFS Working Papers W19/17, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    13. Ager, Philipp & Eriksson, Katherine & Karger, Ezra & Nencka, Peter & Thomasson, Melissa A., 2020. "School Closures During the 1918 Flu Pandemic," CEPR Discussion Papers 15575, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    14. Brian Beach & Karen Clay & Martin Saavedra, 2022. "The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and Its Lessons for COVID-19," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 60(1), pages 41-84, March.
    15. Joël Floris & Laurent Kaiser & Harald Mayr & Kaspar Staub & Ulrich Woitek, 2022. "Investigating survivorship bias: the case of the 1918 flu pandemic," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 29(21), pages 2047-2052, December.
    16. Krzysztof Karbownik & Anthony Wray, 2019. "Educational, Labor-market and Intergenerational Consequences of Poor Childhood Health," NBER Working Papers 26368, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Remi Jedwab & Amjad M. Khan & Richard Damania & Jason Russ & Esha D. Zaveri, 2020. "Pandemics, Poverty, and Social Cohesion: Lessons from the Past and Possible Solutions for COVID-19," Working Papers 2020-13, The George Washington University, Institute for International Economic Policy.
    18. Guillaume Chapelle, 2022. "The medium-term impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions. The case of the 1918 influenza in US cities," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 37(109), pages 43-81.
    19. repec:hal:spmain:info:hdl:2441/7m2qa73prn89eogubjm0rc58le is not listed on IDEAS
    20. Yothin Jinjarak & Ilan Noy & Quy Ta, 2022. "Pandemics and Economic Growth: Evidence from the 1968 H3N2 Influenza," Economics of Disasters and Climate Change, Springer, vol. 6(1), pages 73-93, March.
    21. Clay, Karen & Lewis, Joshua & Severnini, Edson, 2019. "What explains cross-city variation in mortality during the 1918 influenza pandemic? Evidence from 438 U.S. cities," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 42-50.
    22. Gallardo-Albarrán, Daniel & de Zwart, Pim, 2021. "A bitter epidemic: The impact of the 1918 influenza on sugar production in Java," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 42(C).
    23. Nguyen Doan & Canh Phuc Nguyen & Ilan Noy & Yasuyuki Sawada, 2020. "The Economic Impacts of a Pandemic: What Happened after SARS in 2003?," CESifo Working Paper Series 8687, CESifo.
    24. Boberg-Fazlic, Nina & Ivets, Maryna & Karlsson, Martin & Nilsson, Therese, 2021. "Disease and fertility: Evidence from the 1918–19 influenza pandemic in Sweden," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 43(C).
    25. Guillaume Flamerie de la Chapelle, 2020. "The medium-term impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions. The case of the 1918 influenza in US cities," Working Papers hal-03389177, HAL.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General
    • N12 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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