Physician Bias and Racial Disparities in Health: Evidence from Veterans' Pensions
We estimate racial differences in longevity using records from cohorts of Union Army veterans. Since veterans received pensions based on proof of disability at medical exams, estimates of the causal effect of income on mortality may be biased, as sicker veterans received larger pensions. To circumvent endogeneity bias, we propose an exogenous source of variation in pension income: the judgment of the doctors who certified disability. We find that doctors appeared to discriminate against black veterans. The discrimination we observe is acute—we would not observe any racial mortality differences had physicians not been racially biased in determining pension awards. The effect of income on health was indeed large enough to close the black-white mortality gap in the period. Our work emphasizes that the large effects of physicians’ attitudes on racial differentials in health, which persist today amongst both veterans and the civilian population, were equally prominent in the past.
Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25846