Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2019


Economics | Insurance | United States History

Description, Abstract, or Artist's Statement

This paper examines the effect of a sharp rise in mortality, the 1918 influenza epidemic, on life insurance holdings in the U.S. The BLS Cost of Living Surveys of 1918-1919 provide a unique opportunity to examine the effect of the pandemic—some households were surveyed before, and others during or shortly after the worst of the influenza outbreak. In addition, I use state-level insurance sales data to compare the increase in spending on insurance in states particularly hard hit by the epidemic, relative to those that were not. I find some evidence that, in the immediate aftermath of the epidemic, those in severely affected areas spent more on industrial insurance. They were less likely, though, to hold ordinary or fraternal policies and the effects appear to be short-lived. I consider a few explanations for the smaller-than-expected results.


This is a pre-print of the following chapter: Joanna Short, "The Effect of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic on US Life Insurance Holdings," published in Standard of Living: Essays in Economics, History, and Religion in Honor of John E. Murray, edited by Gray et. al., 2022, Springer, reproduced with permission of Springer Nature. The final authenticated version is available online at: