Working Papers

Influenza Pandemics and Macroeconomic Fluctuations in Recent Economic History

Fraser Summerfield, Livio Di Matteo

COVID-19 and the associated economic disruption is not a unique pairing. Catastrophic health events including the Black Death and the Spanish Flu also featured major economic disruptions. This paper focuses on significant health shocks during 1870-2016 from a singular virus: influenza. Our analysis builds on a literature dominated by long-run analyses by documenting the causal impact of influenza pandemics on short-run macroeconomic fluctuations. We examine 16 developed economies combining the Jordà-Schularick-Taylor Macro History Database with the Human Mortality Database. Our results reveal important negative impacts. Further, we illustrate that these effects operate through different channels over time. Prior to vaccines, pandemic-induced mortality was responsible for economic contractions while modern flu-induced cycles appear to arise because of pandemic-induced consumption decreases.

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Paper Keywords

Pandemics, Business Cycles, Mortality, Consumption, GDP Fluctuations