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The Coronavirus and the Great Influenza Pandemic: Lessons from the “Spanish Flu” for the Coronavirus’s Potential Effects on Mortality and Economic Activity

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  • Robert J. Barro
  • José F. Ursúa
  • Joanna Weng

Abstract

Mortality and economic contraction during the 1918-1920 Great Influenza Pandemic provide plausible upper bounds for outcomes under the coronavirus (COVID-19). Data for 48 countries imply flu-related deaths in 1918-1920 of 40 million, 2.1 percent of world population, implying 150 million deaths when applied to current population. Regressions with annual information on flu deaths 1918-1920 and war deaths during WWI imply flu-generated economic declines for GDP and consumption in the typical country of 6 and 8 percent, respectively. There is also some evidence that higher flu death rates decreased realized real returns on stocks and, especially, on short-term government bills.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert J. Barro & José F. Ursúa & Joanna Weng, 2020. "The Coronavirus and the Great Influenza Pandemic: Lessons from the “Spanish Flu” for the Coronavirus’s Potential Effects on Mortality and Economic Activity," NBER Working Papers 26866, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:26866
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    1. Robert J. Barro & Jose F. Ursua, 2008. "Macroeconomic Crises since 1870," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 39(1 (Spring), pages 255-350.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E1 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models
    • I0 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General
    • O4 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity

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