Fetal Shock or Selection? The 1918 Influenza Pandemic and Human Capital Development (WP-18-15)


Brian Beach, Joseph Ferrie, and Martin Saavedra


Almond (2006) argues that in utero exposure to the 1918 influenza pandemic lowered socioeconomic status in adulthood, whereas Brown and Thomas (2016) find that the effect disappears after controlling for parental characteristics of the 1919 birth cohort. In this paper, the researchers link microdata from the 1920 and 1930 censuses to WWII enlistment records and city-level influenza data. The result is a data set with much more precisely measured influenza exposure and parental characteristics. Results indicate that in the absence of the pandemic, the 1919 birth cohort would have been more likely to graduate from high school and would have obtained more years of schooling. The impact on high school graduation 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.

Brian Beach, Assistant Professor of Economics, College of William & Mary

Joseph Ferrie, Professor of Economics and IPR Associate, Northwestern University

Martin Saavedra, Assistant Professor of Economics, Oberlin College

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