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Death and the Media: Asymmetries in Infectious Disease Reporting During the Health Transition

Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn ()

No 21073, NBER Working Papers from National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc

Abstract: In the late 19th Century, cities in Western Europe and the United States 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 they faced. By constructing a unique panel data base, we find that news reports were positively associated with government announced typhoid mortality counts and the size of this effect actually grew after the local governments made large investments in public goods intended to reduce typhoid rates. News coverage was more responsive to unexpected increases in death rates than to unexpected decreases in death rates. Together, these facts suggest that consumers find bad news is more useful than good news.

JEL-codes: I19 L82 N31 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2015-04
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-hea and nep-his
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Published as Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn, 2017. "Death and the Media: Infectious Disease Reporting During the Health Transition," Economica, vol 84(335), pages 393-416.

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