Dr. Elizabeth Wrigley-Field Publishes New Research in Demography

Dr. Elizabeth Wrigley-field, head and shoulders with red shirt standing in front of brown wall.

MPC Member Elizabeth Wrigley-Field published new research on infectious diseases and racial inequality, along with co-authors James Feigenbaum and Chris Muller. In the first half of the twentieth century, the rate of death from infectious disease in the United States fell precipitously. Although this decline is well-known and well-documented, there is surprisingly little evidence about whether it took place uniformly across the regions of the U.S. We use data on infectious disease deaths from all reporting U.S. cities to describe regional patterns in the decline of urban infectious mortality from 1900 to 1948. We report three main results: First, urban infectious mortality was higher in the South in every year from 1900 to 1948. Second, the timing of the infectious mortality decline was different in southern cities than in cities in the other regions. Third, comparatively high infectious mortality in southern cities was driven overwhelmingly by extremely high infectious mortality among African Americans. From 1906 to 1920, African Americans in cities experienced a rate of death from infectious disease greater than what urban whites experienced during the 1918 flu pandemic.

For more information, read the full article in NBER, catch a version of it in VOX EU, and follow a Twitter thread about their project.