Typhoid Fever, Water Quality, and Human Capital Formation

Brian Beach, Joseph Ferrie, Martin Saavedra, Werner Troesken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


New water purification technologies led to large mortality declines by helping eliminate typhoid fever and other waterborne diseases. We examine how this affected human capital formation using early-life typhoid fatality rates to proxy for water quality. We merge city-level data to individuals linked between the 1900 and 1940 Censuses. Eliminating early-life exposure to typhoid fever increased later-life earnings by one percent and educational attainment by one month. Instrumenting for typhoid fever using typhoid rates from cities that lie upstream produces results nine times larger. The increase in earnings from eliminating typhoid fever more than offset the cost of elimination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-75
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Economic History
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 25 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


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