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The Distribution of Infection in the Early 20th Century United States - And Why It Might Still Matter Today

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Thursday, March 23, 2023
3:30 pm - 4:45 pm
Elizabeth Wrigley-Field - University of Minnesota
DUPRI Seminar Series

The first half of the 20th Century saw a dramatic transformation of mortality in the United States, as infectious disease went from ubiquitous and unpredictable and rare and controllable. This revolution in mortality may shape U.S. population health even today. Diverse evidence suggests that infectious exposures in the first year of life can have lasting consequences for individual health and development, as well as altering population composition through intense early mortality selection. The cohorts born in the first half of the twentieth century United States experienced rapidly and unevenly changing infectious exposures. How might that affect health, and inequality in health, today? This talk establishes some basic descriptive facts about how infectious disease exposure was distributed by space, race, and place, and how this changed during the first half of the twentieth century. Results track the evolution of exposures over this period from uniformly high, to extremely mixed and variable, to uniformly low -- albeit only for whites. These patterns suggest new hypotheses about population health today, and may also ultimately be used to investigate what thresholds of exposure, within the range typically experienced by real cohorts, matter for subsequent health.