Deprivation and Disease in Early Twentieth-Century America
This paper explores how early life exposure to poverty and want adversely affects later life health outcomes. In particular, it examines how exposure to crowded housing conditions and impure drinking water undermines long-term health prospects and increases the risk of age-related pathologies such as cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Exploiting city-level data from early-twentieth century America, evidence is presented that cities with unusually high rates of typhoid fever in 1900 had elevated rates of heart and kidney disease fifteen years later; also cities with unusually high rates of tuberculosis in 1900 had elevated rates of cancer and stroke fifteen years later. The estimated coefficients suggest that eradicating typhoid fever (through water purification) and tuberculosis (through improved housing and nutrition) would have reduced later death rates from heart disease, cancer, stroke, and kidney disease by 23 to 35 percent.