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Reversals of Fortune in Health and Wellness

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 12:30 PM - 2:15 PM

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, L505
Hosted By: Cliometric Society
  • Chair: Peter Meyer, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How the Boll Weevil Left Southerners Richer, Taller, and Better Fed

Ethan Schmick
Washington & Jefferson College
Karen Clay
Carnegie Mellon University
Werner Troesken
University of Pittsburgh


This paper studies the effects of a large exogenous and sustained negative agricultural shock in the American South on long run outcomes for individuals in a setting that shares a number of features with developing countries. To estimate the effect of the shock, the paper draws on a linked sample of over 325,000 black and white men in the South and a difference-in-differences framework. The estimates show that the arrival of the boll weevil between 1915 and 1922 increased inequality in the long-run outcomes of white and black men. Relative to men of the same race born before the boll weevil's arrival, the boll weevil increased the wages of white men by 2.1\% and decreased the wages of black men by 2.6\%. Black men who were born after the boll weevil's arrival had 0.14 fewer years of education than black men born before its arrival. The boll weevil did not have any effect on education for white men or on migration out of state by men of either race. The channels through which the boll weevil affected outcomes differed across races.

Sexual Dimorphism in Stature as a Measure of Gender Inequality

Richard Steckel
Ohio State University


Many human biologists argue that males and females have contrasting responses to deprivation during the period of human growth and development. Specifically, females are more resistant than males to adverse conditions, i.e. their physical growth is less likely to falter, or to falter less, if net nutritional conditions deteriorate. Conversely, the growth of males is more likely than that of females to respond vigorously to improving conditions (assuming conditions were less than ideal initially). Therefore the ratio of male to female stature is potentially a useful indicator of the way that nutritional resources were allocated across the sexes within a population or society. This paper measures this sex-specific sensitivity and develops procedures for applying the results to assessing the degree of gender inequality in the allocation of nutritional resources.

Segregation and the initial provision of water in the United States

Brian Beach
College of William and Mary
John Parman
College of William and Mary
Martin Saavedra
Oberlin College


We examine the extent to which segregation shaped the initial provision of water in the United States. We develop a theoretical model to illustrate how segregation affects the extensiveness of water systems. Data from over 1700 cities and towns match the key empirical predictions of our model: waterworks were built earlier in larger and more segregated cities as well as cities with smaller black shares. In the context of our model, these results are consistent with blacks in segregated cities being excluded from water provision. Analysis of health outcomes further supports this interpretation. Segregated cities experienced smaller health improvements following the construction of a waterworks and were much slower to eliminate waterborne diseases. This suggests that, by facilitating the exclusion of black households, segregation also served to undermine the city's ability to eliminate waterborne diseases for all residents.
Vellore Arthi
University of California-Irvine
Ariell Zimran
Vanderbilt University
Jonathan Chapman
New York University
JEL Classifications
  • N3 - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
  • N5 - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment, and Extractive Industries