Pandemics Depress the Economy, Public Health Interventions Do Not: Evidence from the 1918 Flu
45 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2020 Last revised: 27 Mar 2020
Date Written: March 26, 2020
What are the economic consequences of an influenza pandemic? And given the pandemic, what are the economic costs and benefits of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI)? Using geographic variation in mortality during the 1918 Flu Pandemic in the U.S., we find that more exposed areas experience a sharp and persistent decline in economic activity. The estimates imply that the pandemic reduced manufacturing output by 18%. The downturn is driven by both supply and demand-side channels. Further, building on findings from the epidemiology literature establishing that NPIs decrease influenza mortality, we use variation in the timing and intensity of NPIs across U.S. cities to study their economic effects. We find that cities that intervened earlier and more aggressively do not perform worse and, if anything, grow faster after the pandemic is over. Our findings thus indicate that NPIs not only lower mortality; they also mitigate the adverse economic consequences of a pandemic.
Keywords: 1918 Flu Pandemic, non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI), real economy
JEL Classification: E32, I10, I18, H1
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation