Heat, Heart attacks, Hurricanes and Handouts

A couple of fun new papers from the NBER, showing that (a) hot spells shift deaths, but cold snaps raise them (so moving to warmer climates is good for your health), and (b) it ain’t hard to manipulate charitable giving.

Extreme Weather Events, Mortality and Migration
by Olivier Deschenes, Enrico Moretti
We estimate the effect of extreme weather on life expectancy in the US.  Using high frequency mortality data, we find that both extreme heat and extreme cold result in immediate increases in mortality. However, the increase in mortality following extreme heat appears entirely driven by temporal displacement, while the increase in mortality following extreme cold is long lasting.  The aggregate effect of cold on mortality is quantitatively large.  We estimate that the number of annual deaths attributable to cold temperature is 27,940 or 1.3% of total deaths in the US.  This effect is even larger in low income areas.  Because the U.S. population has been moving from cold Northeastern states to the warmer Southwestern states, our findings have implications for understanding the causes of long-term increases in life expectancy.  We calculate that every year, 5,400 deaths are delayed by changes in exposure to cold temperature induced by mobility.  These longevity gains associated with long term trends in geographical mobility account for 8%-15% of the total gains in life expectancy experienced by the US population over the past 30 years. Thus mobility is an important but previously overlooked determinant of increased longevity in the United States.  We also find that the probability of moving to a state that has fewer days of extreme cold is higher for the age groups that are predicted to benefit more in terms of lower mortality compared to the age groups that are predicted to benefit less.

What Determines Giving to Hurricane Katrina Victims? Experimental Evidence on Income, Race, and Fairness
by Christina M. Fong, Erzo F.P. Luttmer 
We investigate determinants of private and public generosity to Katrina victims using an artifactual field experiment. In this experiment, respondents from the general population viewed a short audiovisual presentation that manipulated respondents’ perceptions of the income, race, and deservingness of Katrina victims in one of two small cities.  Respondents then decided how to split $100 between themselves and a charity helping Katrina victims in this small city. We also collected survey data on subjective support for government spending to help the Katrina victims in the cities.  We find, first, that our income manipulation had a significant effect on giving; respondents gave more when they perceived the victims to be poorer. Second, the race and deservingness manipulations had virtually no effect on average giving.  Third, the averages mask substantial racial bias among sub-groups of our sample.  For instance, the subgroup of whites who identify with their ethnic or racial group strongly biased their giving against blacks.  Finally, subjective support for government spending to help Katrina victims was significantly influenced by both our race and deservingness manipulations, but not by the income manipulation.  White respondents supported significantly less public spending for black victims and significantly more for victims who were described in more flattering terms, such as being helpful and law-abiding.

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