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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 Brown & Thomas (2018) find that the effect disappears after controlling for parental characteristics of the 1919 birth cohort. We link microdata from the 1920 and 1930 censuses to WWII enlistment records and city-level in uenza data. This allows us to adopt an empirical approach that overcomes the selection concerns raised by Brown & Thomas (2018). Results indicate that in the absence of the pandemic, the 1919 birth cohort would have been more likely to graduate from high school, an effect that is largely unaffected by including parental controls and city-specific time trends. Adding household fixed effects (and thus exploiting variation among brothers) yields similar but somewhat larger results.

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 > Specific pandemics > Spanish Influenza
    2. > Economics of Welfare > Health Economics > Economics of Pandemics > Consequences > Health and human capital


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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Joël Floris & Laurent Kaiser & Harald Mayr & Kaspar Staub & Ulrich Woitek, 2019. "Survival of the weakest? Culling evidence from the 1918 flu pandemic," ECON - Working Papers 316, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.
    3. 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).
    4. Gabriella Conti & Giacomo Mason & Stavros Poupakis, 2019. "Developmental Origins of Health Inequality," Working Papers 2019-041, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    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. Vellore Arthi & John Parman, 2020. "Disease, Downturns, and Wellbeing: Economic History and the Long-Run Impacts of COVID-19," NBER Working Papers 27805, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. Brian Beach & Karen Clay & Martin Saavedra, 2020. "The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and its Lessons for COVID-19," Working Papers 2020-15, The George Washington University, Institute for International Economic Policy.
    12. 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.
    13. 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.
    14. Brian Beach & Karen Clay & Martin H. Saavedra, 2020. "The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and its Lessons for COVID-19," NBER Working Papers 27673, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    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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