In the early 20th century, a survey by The Rockefeller Sanitary Commission (RSC) found that 40 percent of school-aged children in the South were infected with hookworm. UM Associate Professor Hoyt Bleakley compared RSC data from early to mid-20th century census records of places where hookworm eradication did and did not take place. He looked at education and economic gains and found that literacy, school enrollment, and attendance were higher in areas where hookworm reduction took place. This resulted in better-educated children that became higher-earning adults. “There are lots of reasons why the South had a different developmental path than the rest of the country, and while disease is not the whole story, it was certainly part of it. Hookworm played a major role in the South’s lagging behind the rest of the country,” explains Hoyt.
Excerpts of Hoyt’s research were referenced in an article entitled, “How a Worm Gave the South a Bad Name,” written by Rachel Numer for NOVA Next. This research was part of his paper, “Disease and Development: Evidence from Hookworm Eradication in the American South,” published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics’ February 2007 edition.
To learn more about Hoyt and his work, visit his homepage!