« Back to Results

Human Capital and Public Economics

Paper Session

Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM (PDT)

Marriott Marquis, Malibu City
Hosted By: Cliometric Society
  • Chair: Martin Saavedra, Oberlin College

Public Health Efforts and the Decline in Urban Mortality

D. Mark Anderson
Montana State University
Kerwin Charles
University of Chicago
Daniel Rees
University of Colorado-Denver


Using data on 25 major American cities for the period 1900-1940, we explore the effects of municipal-level public health efforts that were viewed as critical in the fight against food- and water-borne diseases. In addition to studying interventions such as treating sewage and setting strict bacteriological standards for milk, which have received little attention in the literature, we provide new evidence on the effects of water filtration and chlorination, extending the work of previous scholars. Contrary to the consensus view, we find that none of the interventions under study contributed substantially to the observed declines in total and infant mortality.

Rural Elites and Redistribution: Evidence from the English Poor Law

Jonathan Chapman
New York University Abu Dhabi


This paper tests the relationship between inequality, democratization and expenditure on poor relief in England and Wales between 1885 and 1905. Poor relief served as the main form of social insurance at that time and, in contrast to modern day welfare programs, was provided by elected local governments. As a result, policy varied substantially across the country in terms of both the magnitude and nature of the support provided. Prior to 1894, a number of institutional features-graduated franchise, the absence of a secret ballot, and the participation of unelected magistrates-helped elites to control these local councils, and hence poor law policy. These advantages were removed by a national reform in 1894, an event which serves as the treatment event in a difference-in-difference analysis. The analysis tests whether the effect of this reform varied according to the level of inequality in each district, as predicted by theoretical models of democratization. The results show that, consistent with those theories, unequal districts experienced greater increases in poor law expenditure post democratic reform.

Intergenerational Mobility in American History: Accounting for Race and Measurement Error

Zachary Ward
Baylor University


A large body of evidence suggests that intergenerational mobility in the United States has declined over the past 150 years. However, research that finds high relative mobility in America’s past is based on data with few or no black families, and therefore does not account for the limited opportunities available for African Americans. Moreover, historical studies often measure the father’s economic status with error, which biases estimates towards greater mobility. Using new early 20th century data, I show that the persistence of economic status from father to son is over twice as strong after accounting for racial disparities and for measurement error. After addressing these two issues, I estimate that relative mobility has increased over the 20th century. The results imply that there is greater equality of opportunity today than in the early 20th century, mostly because opportunity was never that equal.

The Missionary Imposition? The Long-Run Impact of Indian Missions in the United States

Maggie Jones
University of Victoria
Donna Feir
Center for Indian Country Development


During the colonial era, Christian missions operated throughout colonial states with the intention of converting local populations to Christianity. This paper examines the long-run impact of these Christian missions in the United States. We combine a variety of historical sources to construct a dataset on the location of over 300 missions across the US, which we combine with other publicly available sources to study the effects of missionary presence in ethnic homelands on education, income, and cultural outcomes. In line with previous research on missionary presence in the developing world, we find positive effects of historical missionary activity on education and income, although the effects differ substantially by religious denomination. Distinct from previous literature, we explore the possible political ramifications of missionary contact by studying the political status of tribes and its interaction with missionary contact and timing.
Martin Saavedra
Oberlin College
Brian Beach
Vanderbilt University
James Feigenbaum
Boston University
Sumner La Croix
University of Hawaii
JEL Classifications
  • N3 - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
  • J1 - Demographic Economics