The Brazilian Bombshell? The Long-Term Impact of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic the South American Way
We analyze the repercussions of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic on demographic measures, human capital formation, and productivity markers in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil's financial center and the most populous city in South America today. Leveraging temporal and spatial variation in district-level estimates of influenza-related deaths for the period 1917-1920 combined with a unique database on socio-economic, health and productivity outcomes constructed from historical and contemporary documents for all districts in Sao Paulo, we find that the 1918 Influenza pandemic had significant negative impacts on infant mortality and sex ratios at birth in 1920 (the short-run). We find robust evidence of persistent effects on health, educational attainment and productivity more than twenty years later. Our study highlights the importance of documenting the legacy of historical shocks in understanding the development trajectories of countries over time.
We thank Marcella Alsan, James Feigenbaum, Carola Frydman, Eric Hilt, Robert Margo, and Edson Severnini, and participants at the NBER-DAE 2019 Summer Institute, the EHA 2019 Meetings, the LACDEV 2019 Conference, the LACEA-LAMES 2019 Conference, Northeastern University, and the Ph.D. seminar series at Brandeis for comments and suggestions. We thank Dani Castillo, Andre Lanza, Pedro Makhoul, Stephanie Orlic, and Uros Randelovic for excellent research assistance. This project was made possible by a Provost Research Grant and funds from the Brazil Initiative at Brandeis University. The usual disclaimer applies. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.