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The Economic History of Social Issues

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 403
Hosted By: Cliometric Society
  • Chair: Michael McAvoy, State University of New York-Oneonta

The Contribution of Infrastructure Investment to Britain’s Urban Mortality Decline 1861-1900

Jonathan N. Chapman
New York University


It is well-recognized that both improved nutrition and sanitation infrastructure are important contributors to mortality decline. However the relative importance of the two factors is difficult to quantify. This paper uses new historical data regarding total investment in urban infrastructure, measured using the outstanding loan stock, to estimate the extent to which the mortality decline in England and Wales between 1861 and 1900 can be attributed to government investment. Fixed effects regressions indicate the infrastructure investment explains approximately 22-25% of the decline in mortality between 1861 and 1900, once time trends are accounted for. To better account for the endogeneity between investment and mortality, I then estimate specifications using lagged investment as an instrument for current investment. These estimates suggest that investment was the major contributor to urban mortality decline, explaining up to 60% of the fall between 1861 and 1900 and 88% between 1861 and 1890.

The Impact of New Deal on Health: An Epidemiological Framework

Gregori Galofre-Vila
University of Oxford
David Stuckler
University of Oxford


The New Deal represented the biggest recovery programme in American history. In this paper we use the recent New Deal statistics produced by Fishback (2015) and we link it to a new dataset with state level mortality data for over 30 different causes by race and age collected from the Annual Volumes of the Vital Statistics of the US for the period 1927 and 1939. While the New Deal was not designed with public health in mind, we find that it had a momentous effect on the public’s health. We also use the IPUMS data to study the extent to which the New Deal programmes have persisted until the present and track the long-run effects of the New Deal. This paper represents a clear example of how economic policy has a huge effect not only on the economy but also on people’s health and lives in difficult times.

Importing Crime? The Effect of Immigration on Crime in the United States, 1880-1930

Rowena Gray
University of California-Merced


A novel dataset on arrest rates by type of crime and police inputs is presented for 30 US cities covering the period 1880 to 1930, drawn from annual police reports. We build an exogenous proxy for the foreign-born share in those cities which uses the initial distribution of immigrants from different countries of origin and updates that share using national inflows of immigrants. This allows us to estimate the effect of immigrants on various types of property and violent crimes, separating the effects by origin groups and controlling for police inputs and demographic factors. We find that, in this period of open borders and substantial inflows, there seems to be no overall detrimental effect of immigrants increasing crime but that there are richer stories when unpacking the analyses by origin group. We find some evidence of convergence over time whereby certain immigrant groups were initially very over-represented in arrests in 1880 but became much less so in later decades.

Marrying for Money: Evidence From the First Wave of Married Women's Property Laws in the United States

Peter Koudijs
Stanford University
Laura Salisbury
York University


Marriage can substitute for formal business contracts, especially in environments that lack
a well established system of contract or corporate law. In such settings, marriage can facilitate
the efficient organization of labor and capital. In this paper, we explore the pooling of capital as
an explicit motive for marriage. We measure the impact of a class of married women's property
acts introduced in the American South during the 1840s on assortative matching in the marriage
market. These laws did not grant married women autonomy over their separate estate; they
merely shielded their property from seizure by their husbands' creditors. This had the dual
effect of mitigating downside risk while restricting a husband's ability to borrow against his
wife's property; it also preserved the bulk of the wife's assets as inheritance for the couple's
children. Using a newly compiled database of linked marriage and census records, we show
that these laws were associated with an overall increase in assortative mating, suggesting that
the ability to pool capital importantly contributed to the gains from marriage. At the same
time, there is considerable heterogeneity in the effect in different regions of the joint men's and
women's wealth distribution. We provide an interpretation for these results.
Werner Troesken
University of Pittsburgh
Brian Beach
William and Mary College
James Feigenbaum
Boston University
Sukanya Basu
Vassar College
JEL Classifications
  • N3 - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
  • J0 - General