Modern Medicine and the 20th Century Decline in Mortality: Evidence on the Impact of Sulfa Drugs

51 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2009 Last revised: 25 Sep 2010

See all articles by Seema Jayachandran

Seema Jayachandran

Northwestern University - Department of Economics

Adriana Lleras-Muney

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Kimberly V. Smith

Princeton University

Date Written: June 2009

Abstract

This paper studies the contribution of sulfa drugs, a groundbreaking medical innovation in the 1930s, to declines in U.S. mortality. For several often-fatal infectious diseases, sulfa drugs represented the first effective treatment. Using time-series and difference-in-differences methods (with diseases unaffected by sulfa drugs as a comparison group), we find that sulfa drugs led to a 25 to 40 percent decline in maternal mortality, 17 to 36 percent decline in pneumonia mortality, and 52 to 67 percent decline in scarlet-fever mortality between 1937 and 1943. Altogether, they reduced mortality by 2 to 4 percent and increased life expectancy by 0.4 to 0.8 years. We also find that sulfa drugs benefited whites more than blacks.

Suggested Citation

Jayachandran, Seema and Lleras-Muney, Adriana and Smith, Kimberly V., Modern Medicine and the 20th Century Decline in Mortality: Evidence on the Impact of Sulfa Drugs (June 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w15089, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1422967

Seema Jayachandran

Northwestern University - Department of Economics ( email )

2003 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Adriana Lleras-Muney (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs ( email )

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Kimberly V. Smith

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

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