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Women’s Suffrage, Political Responsiveness, and Child Survival in American History

Publication Date: 
August 1, 2008

Quarterly Journal of Economics 123(3): 1287-1327, 2008

Women's choices appear to emphasize child welfare more than those of men. This paper presents new evidence on how suffrage rights for American women helped children to benefit from the scientific breakthroughs of the bacteriological revolution. Consistent with standard models of electoral competition, suffrage laws were followed by immediate shifts in legislative behavior and large, sudden increases in local public health spending. This growth in public health spending fueled large-scale door-to-door hygiene campaigns, and child mortality declined by 8–15% (or 20,000 annual child deaths nationwide) as cause-specific reductions occurred exclusively among infectious childhood killers sensitive to hygienic conditions.