The Fight Against Disease: Malaria and Economic Development in Italian Regions



Malaria is thought to be strictly related to underdevelopment and poverty, and its geographically related origin is now widely recognized. That is, it is endemic only in certain areas of the globe, with environmental and climatic characteristics that are ideal for the proliferation of mosquitoes, which are the vector for transmitting the disease. This feature is the main reason why a large body of economic literature uses mortality from malaria as a proxy with which to measure the effect of geography on human outcomes. Cases of eradication are being scrutinized by scholars to determine the socioeconomic impacts of malaria. Among the various malaria parasites, the worst, Plasmodium falciparum, infested Italian regions for centuries until its eradication in the period 1945–50. This article presents an empirical assessment of the economic outcomes of the eradication of malaria in the Italian regions by exploiting the spatial variation in mortality rates. I found support for the hypothesis that the eradication of malaria increases human capital in the long run. In particular, I found that eradication increased the years of schooling by about 0.3 years, although my evidence suggests a greater effect on males than on females. Moreover, I found support for a long-run impact of eradication actions that operated through an intergenerational spillover effect and accounted for about 0.07 years of schooling.