571/2021 Johan Fourie and Johannes Norling
How did the 1918 influenza outbreak, the deadliest pandemic of the twentieth century, affect household income and spending in the United States? Using the 1917–1919 BLS cost of living survey, we compare households in 99 cities observed at different stages of the pandemic. We find a six percent decrease in real income, driven by cities with higher mortality. Men’s wages fell, but more women worked. People spent less on non-durable goods and services, about the same on durables, and more on medicine. Spending varied by region, age, and affluence. Government-imposed non-pharmaceutical interventions had little correlation with consumer behaviour.