Information and the Impact of Climate and Weather on Mortality Rates during the Great Depression

Price V. Fishback, Werner Troesken, Trevor Kollmann, Michael Haines, Paul W. Rhode and Melissa Thomasson

in The Economics of Climate Change

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780226479880
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226479903 | DOI:
Information and the Impact of Climate and Weather on Mortality Rates during the Great Depression

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This chapter presents new data on mortality rates for 3,054 U.S. counties between 1930 and 1940, a decade that saw unusually severe droughts and high temperatures as well as economic collapse associated with the Great Depression. These conditions could be similar to conditions in many developing countries today should climate change disrupt the macroeconomy. Combining data on mortality, temperatures, precipitation, and various socioeconomic correlates, the chapter examines both cross-section and time series variation in temperature and precipitation and death rates across the over 3,000 counties during the 1930s. The most important explanatory factors are those associated with information—literacy and access to radios and magazines. These results are repeated in statistical tests where noninfant mortality is the dependent variable. The findings underscore the importance of improved information flows to promote public health as a way of reducing the effect of weather shocks on welfare. The analysis focuses on weather fluctuations around long-term climate norms and that shifts in climate may have larger effects on mortality.

Keywords: mortality; Great Depression; temperature; precipitation; infant mortality; climate; information flows; public health; weather

Chapter.  15326 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Economic Development and Growth

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