Death and the Media: Asymmetries in Infectious Disease Reporting During The Health Transition

44 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2016

See all articles by Dora L. Costa

Dora L. Costa

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Matthew E. Kahn

University of Southern California; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: February 25, 2016

Abstract

In the late 19th Century, cities in Western Europe and the United States suffered from high levels of infectious disease. Over a 40 year period, there was a dramatic decline in infectious disease death in cities. As such objective progress in urban quality of life took place, how did the media report this trend? At this time newspapers were the major source of information educating urban households about the risks they faced. By constructing a unique panel data base, we find that news reports were positively associated with government announced typhoid mortality counts and the size of this effect actually grew after the local governments made large investments in public goods intended to reduce typhoid rates. News coverage was more responsive to unexpected increases in death rates than to unexpected decreases in death rates. Together, these facts suggest that consumers find bad news is more useful than good news.

Keywords: Infectious Disease Deaths, Media Coverage, Typhoid Mortality Rates, and Late 19th Century

JEL Classification: I19, L82, N31

Suggested Citation

Costa, Dora L. and Kahn, Matthew E., Death and the Media: Asymmetries in Infectious Disease Reporting During The Health Transition (February 25, 2016). USC-INET Research Paper No. 16-11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2753673 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2753673

Dora L. Costa (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Economics ( email )

Box 951477
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1477
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Matthew E. Kahn

University of Southern California ( email )

2250 Alcazar Street
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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