IS THE 1918 INFLUENZA PANDEMIC OVER?

IS THE 1918 INFLUENZA PANDEMIC OVER? LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF IN UTERO EXPOSURE IN THE POST-1940 US POPULATION

D. Almond

Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 114, No. 4 (2005) pp. 672-712

A Short Summary 

In a Nutshell

According to fetal origins hypothesis. Many health conditions that occur in an individual’s lifetime can be traced back to the course of fetal development. This could have serious economic consequences and hence indicate policy that might be used to combat poor pre-birth conditions in order to improve economic outcomes and aggregate health. In order to evaluate these claims a unique natural experiment is analyzed: the 1918 Spanish flue pandemic in the US.

This pandemic struck in Oct 1918 and was over by beginning of 1919 implying that cohorts born just months apart experienced very different in utero conditions. Different states were affected differently. Exploiting this variation in a RDD and DID design (comparing cohorts by birthdate, and comparing cohorts by state) using census data the study finds that virtually all examined socio-economic outcomes were affected. Children of exposed mothers were 15% less likely to graduate from high school, wages were 5-9% lower for men and likelihood of being poor rose 15%.

The responsiveness of labour market outcomes to fetal health has significant implications for health economics – i.e. policies to improve fetal health may have a multiplier effect to any policies that seek to improve the educational system.

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