1918 Every Year: Racial Inequality in Infectious Mortality, 1906–1942

Joint with Lauren Hoehn-Velasco, Christopher Muller, and Elizabeth Wrigley-Field

American Economic Association: Papers & Proceedings, 112:199-204


In the first half of the 20th century, racial inequality in the rate of death from infectious disease was immense. In every year from 1906 to 1920, Black Americans in cities died from infectious diseases at a rate higher than that of urban white Americans during the 1918 influenza pandemic. We decompose mortality into three broad causes of death to determine which causes were most influential. Our results suggest that racial inequality in infectious mortality was primarily driven by TB and flu---the two major respiratory causes of death. Waterborne causes, by contrast, played a minor role in explaining the disparity.