RIEB Discussion Paper Series No.2022-27

RIEB Discussion Paper Series No.2022-27


The Great Influenza Pandemic in Japan: Policy Responses and Socioeconomic Consequences


This paper explores the socioeconomic consequences of the 1918-1920 Great Influenza Pandemic (GIP) in Japan. First, it reviews the chronological and geographical patterns of the disease’s spread and policy responses by the government. It then employs panel analyses to test the quantitative effects of the pandemic on socioeconomic indicators such as population growth, factory employment, wage, capital formation, and income. The study finds that 1) Japan was hit by the pandemic twice, once in the winter of 1918-1919 and again in the winter to spring of 1919-1920, with the urban population facing a greater risk to life because of greater exposure to the virus, while the rural population was more likely to succumb to the disease when infected, 2) the pandemic seemed to have a noticeable effect on socioeconomic activities in the short and medium terms, suggesting a trigger of population outflows and substitution of labor by capital without any adverse effect on income, and 3) the government response included medical and public health measures but not economic measures. Though the GIP was similar to COVID-19 in terms of epidemiological patterns, it was very different in terms of human agency and socioeconomic consequences.


Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University
Research Fellow, RIEB, Kobe University