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Paralyzed by Panic: Measuring the Effect of School Closures during the 1916 Polio Pandemic on Educational Attainment

Keith Meyers, Melissa A. Thomasson

NBER Working Paper No. 23890
Issued in September 2017
NBER Program(s):Program on the Development of the American Economy, Economics of Education Program

We leverage the 1916 polio pandemic in the United States as a natural experiment to test whether short-term school closures result in reduced educational attainment as an adult. With over 23,000 cases of polio diagnosed in 1916, officials implemented quarantines and closed schools. Since the pandemic occurred during the start of the 1916 school year, children of working age may have elected not to return to school. Using state-level polio morbidity as a proxy for schooling disruptions, we find that children ages 14-17 during the pandemic had less educational attainment in 1940 compared to their slightly older peers.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23890

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