Leticia Abad, Noel Maurer, 19 February 2021

While the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to have affected the 2020 US presidential elections, it had remarkably little effect on the electoral returns. This column compares the situation to the 1918 influenza pandemic and examines whether the flu pandemic affected US congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential elections during 1918–1920. Flu deaths did have a small effect on elections – voters did indeed blame incumbent parties for bad health outcomes. However, it appears they cared about other things much more.

Roberto De Santis, Wouter Van der Veken, 11 November 2020

Understanding the economic impacts of a global pandemic is a key challenge for the economics profession. This column analyses the 1918-1920 Spanish flu to gain insights about the expected output losses and downside risks from such an event. It estimates an average output drop of 7% across the globe over the years 1918-1920, increased macroeconomic risks, and an increase in income inequality across countries. The expected real income loss is nearly twice as large for lower-income countries. As for the US, the estimated output fall due to the Spanish flu is small, but the macroeconomic risks are not negligible.

Sergio Galletta, Tommaso Giommoni, 03 October 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak is expected to increase income inequality around the world as the poorer are likely to be hit harder by the pandemic’s negative economic impact. Focusing on Italy, this column argues that such distributional consequences also appeared during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Income inequality became higher in areas more afflicted by the flu pandemic, and this is mostly explained by a reduction in the share of income held by poorer people. This effect seems to persist even a century after the pandemic.

Efraim Benmelech, Carola Frydman, 29 April 2020

The immediate economic fallout for the US economy from the coronavirus pandemic is predicted to be disastrous. In comparison, while the Spanish flu also had some economic consequences, they were mostly modest and temporary. This column evaluates the developments in the US economy during the 1918 influenza, in search of a possible explanation for the limited adverse effects of the flu despite similar social distancing requirements, albeit at a lower scale. It concludes that a large expansion in government demand can go a long way in softening the economic impact of the crisis we face today. 

Arnstein Aassve, Guido Alfani, Francesco Gandolfi, Marco Le Moglie, 22 March 2020

Long-term effects of a pandemic go well beyond the demographic losses. This column uses a representative survey of the US population in the aftermath of the Spanish flu to evaluate the permanent consequences of the pandemic on individual behaviour. It finds that social disruption during the period led to long-term deterioration in social trust, which had important economic consequences. The findings highlight the importance of a strong response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

CEPR Policy Research