Disease and Development: The Effect of Life Expectancy on Economic Growth

88 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2006 Last revised: 12 Jul 2010

See all articles by Daron Acemoglu

Daron Acemoglu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Simon Johnson

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Entrepreneurship Center; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: June 2006

Abstract

What is the effect of increasing life expectancy on economic growth? To answer this question, we exploit the international epidemiological transition, the wave of international health innovations and improvements that began in the 1940s. We obtain estimates of mortality by disease before the 1940s from the League of Nations and national public health sources. Using these data, we construct an instrument for changes in life expectancy, referred to as predicted mortality, which is based on the pre-intervention distribution of mortality from various diseases around the world and dates of global interventions. We document that predicted mortality has a large and robust effect on changes in life expectancy starting in 1940, but no effect on changes in life expectancy before the interventions. The instrumented changes in life expectancy have a large effect on population; a 1% increase in life expectancy leads to an increase in population of about 1.5%. Life expectancy has a much smaller effect on total GDP both initially and over a 40-year horizon, however. Consequently, there is no evidence that the large exogenous increase in life expectancy led to a significant increase in per capita economic growth. These results confirm that global efforts to combat poor health conditions in less developed countries can be highly effective, but also shed doubt on claims that unfavorable health conditions are the root cause of the poverty of some nations.

Suggested Citation

Acemoglu, Daron and Johnson, Simon, Disease and Development: The Effect of Life Expectancy on Economic Growth (June 2006). NBER Working Paper No. w12269. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=906747

Daron Acemoglu (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

50 Memorial Drive
Room E52-380b
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-1927 (Phone)
617-253-1330 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Simon Johnson

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Entrepreneurship Center ( email )

United States
617-253-8412 (Phone)
617-258-6855 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
88
Abstract Views
1,869
rank
290,384
PlumX Metrics