Dora L. Costa from the University of California, Los Angeles and Matthew E. Kahn from the University of Southern California investigated how the media reported on infectious diseases in major U.S. cities over the last century. By combining weekly typhoid deaths and cases from the Project Tycho database and daily counts of newspaper articles, the authors created a panel database that showed a positive association with news reports and government-announced typhoid mortality counts. Other associations were also identified as cities began cleaning their water supplies, indicating that the media played an important role in disseminating information and motivating citizens to address the source of typhoid deaths in their cities.
Dora L. Costa
Matthew E. Kahn
Related Project Tycho Datasets
In the late 19th century, cities in Western Europe and the USA suffered from high levels of infectious disease. Over a 40-year period, there was a dramatic decline in infectious disease deaths in cities. As such objective progress in urban quality of life took place, how did the media report this trend? At that time, newspapers were the major source of information educating urban households about the risks that they faced. By constructing a unique panel database, we find that news reports were positively associated with government-announced typhoid mortality counts, and the size of this effect actually grew after local governments made large investments in public water works to reduce typhoid rates. News coverage was more responsive to unexpected increases in death rates that to unexpected decreases in death rates.
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