The Coronavirus and the Great Influenza Epidemic - Lessons from the 'Spanish Flu' for the Coronavirus's Potential Effects on Mortality and Economic Activity

26 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2020

See all articles by Robert J. Barro

Robert J. Barro

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

José F Ursua

Dodge & Cox Funds

Joanna Weng

EverLife

Date Written: 2020

Abstract

Mortality and economic contraction during the 1918-1920 Great Influenza Epidemic provide plausible upper bounds for outcomes under the coronavirus (COVID-19). Data for 43 countries imply flu-related deaths in 1918-1920 of 39 million, 2.0 percent of world population, implying 150 million deaths when applied to current population. Regressions with annual information on flu deaths 1918-1920 and war deaths during WWI imply flu-generated economic declines for GDP and consumption in the typical country of 6 and 8 percent, respectively. There is also some evidence that higher flu death rates decreased realized real returns on stocks and, especially, on short-term government bills.

Suggested Citation

Barro, Robert J. and Ursua, José F and Weng, Joanna, The Coronavirus and the Great Influenza Epidemic - Lessons from the 'Spanish Flu' for the Coronavirus's Potential Effects on Mortality and Economic Activity (2020). CESifo Working Paper No. 8166, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3556305

Robert J. Barro (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-3203 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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José F Ursua

Dodge & Cox Funds

c/o Boston Financial Data Services
P.O. Box 8422
Boston, MA 02266-8422
United States

Joanna Weng

EverLife

New York, NY
United States

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