War, Politics, and Pandemic Disease Mortality: Evidence from the 1918 Influenza in the United States
38 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 28 Aug 2010
Date Written: 2010
Does politics contribute to the diffusion of pandemics? If so, how? This paper investigates these questions by analyzing sub-national data from the United States on mortality rates during the 1918 Influenza. Comparisons of these mortality rates allow me to isolate micro level causal mechanisms that would be more difficult to identify and test in a cross-country analysis. I argue that politics contributed to the diffusion of the disease in the United States in two respects. First, the mobilization effort for World War I made certain segments of the U.S. civilian population vulnerable to contracting the disease. Second, political measures such as school closings, quarantines, and bans on public gatherings partially insulated cities from the perils of existing in close proximity to an army camp. Statistical analysis provides evidence that cities located in close proximity to military bases suffered higher mortality rates and that instituting robust political measures to counter the spread of influenza dampened this effect. These findings shed new light on how politics affects public health conditions. They also have implications for policy planning on future pandemics.
Keywords: war, public health, political interventions, 1918 Influenza
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