Modern Medicine and the Twentieth Century Decline in Mortality: Evidence on the Impact of Sulfa Drugs
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Modern Medicine and the Twentieth Century Decline in Mortality: Evidence on the Impact of Sulfa Drugs

  • Author(s): Jayachandran, S
  • Lleras-Muney, A
  • Smith, KV
  • et al.
Abstract

This paper studies the contribution of sulfa drugs, a groundbreaking medical innovation in the 1930s, to declines in US mortality. For several infectious diseases, sulfa drugs represented the first effective treatment. Using time-series and difference-in-differences methods, we find that sulfa drugs led to a 24 to 36 percent decline in maternal mortality, 17 to 32 percent decline in pneumonia mortality, and 52 to 65 percent decline in scarlet fever mortality between 1937 and 1943. Altogether, sulfa drugs reduced mortality by 2 to 3 percent and increased life expectancy by 0.4 to 0.7 years. We also find that sulfa drugs benefited whites more than blacks. (JEL I12, L65, N32, N72)

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