Skip to main content

Adapting to the Weather: Lessons from U.S. History

  • Hoyt Bleakley (a1) and Sok Chul Hong (a2)

An important unknown in understanding the impact of climate change is the scope of adaptation, which requires observations on historical time scales. We consider how weather across U.S. history (1860–2000) has affected various measures of productivity. Using cross-sectional and panel methods, we document significant responses of agricultural and individual productivity to weather. We find strong effects of hotter and wetter weather early in U.S. history, but these effects have generally been attenuated in recent decades. The results suggest that estimates from a given period may be of limited use in forecasting the longer-term impacts of climate change.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Adapting to the Weather: Lessons from U.S. History
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Adapting to the Weather: Lessons from U.S. History
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Adapting to the Weather: Lessons from U.S. History
      Available formats
Corresponding author
Hide All

We have benefited from comments and suggestions from Michael Greenstone, Paul Rhode, Wolfram Schlenker, Richard Steckel, Gary Libecap, Daniel Hamermesh, William Collins, and two anonymous referees, and from the participants in the workshops at the University of Chicago, UIUC, and Queen's University, Sogang University, Korea University, and Seoul National University, and in the seminars at NBER Universities' Research Conference, the American Economic Association Annual Meetings, and World Economic History Congress. Research reported in this article was supported by NIH grant number P01 AG10120 and the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2011-327-B00079).

Hide All
Adams Richard M.Global Change and Agriculture: An Economic Perspective.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 71, no. 5 (1989): 1272–79.
Adams Richard M., Rosenzweig Cynthia, Pearl Robert M., et al. “Global Climate Change and U.S. Agriculture.” Nature 345, no. 6272 (1990): 219–24.
Almond Douglas. “Is the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Over? Long-Term Effects of In Utero Influenza Exposure in the Post-1940 U.S. Population.” Journal of Political Economy 114, no. 4 (2006): 672712.
Barker David J. P. Mothers, Babies, and Disease in Later Life. London: BMJ Publishing Group, 1994.
Barreca Alan. “The Long-Term Economic Impact of In Utero and Postnatal Exposure to Malaria.” Journal of Human Resources 45, no. 4 (2010): 865–92.
Barreca Alan, Clay Karen, Deschênes Olivier, et al. “Convergence in Adaptation to Climate Change: Evidence from High Temperatures and Mortality, 1900–2004.” American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings 105, no. 5 (2015): 247–51.
Black Sandra E., Devereux Paul J., and Salvanes Kjell G.. “From the Cradle to the Labor Market? The Effect of Birth Weight on Adult Outcomes.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 122, no. 1 (2007): 409–39.
Bleakley Hoyt. “Disease and Development: Evidence from Hookworm Eradication in the American South.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 122, no. 1 (2007): 73117.
Bleakley Hoyt. “Malaria Eradication in the Americas: A Retrospective Analysis of Childhood Exposure.” American Economic Journal: Applied 2, no. 2 (2010):145.
Burke Marshall, Hsiang Solomon, and Miguel Edward. “Global Non-linear Effect of Temperature on Economic Production.” Nature 527 (2015): 235–39.
Carter Susan B., Gartner Scott S., Haines Michael R., et al. Historical Statistics of the United States: Millennial Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Cline William R.The Impact of Global Warming of Agriculture: Comment.” American Economic Review 86, no. 5 (1996): 1309–11.
Costa Dora L.Race and Pregnancy Outcomes in the Twentieth Century: A Long-Term Comparison.” Journal of Economic History 64, no. 4 (2004): 1056–86.
Darwin Roy. “The Impact of Global Warming on Agriculture: A Ricardian Analysis: Comment.” American Economic Review 89, no. 4 (1999): 1049–52.
Dell Melissa, Jones Benjamin F., and Olken Benjamin A.. “Temperature Shocks and Economic Growth: Evidence from the Last. Half Century.” American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 4, no. 3 (2012): 6695.
Desai Meghna, Ter Kuile Feiko O, Nosten Francois, et al. “Epidemiology and Burden of Malaria in Pregnancy.” Lancet Infectious Diseases 7, no. 2 (2007): 93104.
Deschênes Olivier, and Greenstone Michael. “The Economic Impacts of Climate Change: Evidence from Agricultural Output and Random Fluctuations in Weather.” American Economic Review 97, no. 1 (2007): 354–85.
Deschênes Olivier, Greenstone Michael, and Guryan Jonathan. “Climate Change and Birth Weight.” American Economic Review 99, no. 2 (2009): 211–17.
Diamond Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Northern and Company, 1997.
Gardner Bruce L. American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century: How It Flourished and What It Cost. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Guiteras Raymond. “The Impact of Climate Change on Indian Agriculture.” Mimeo, 2009.
Haines Michael R., and ICPSR. Historical, Demographic, Economic, and Social Data: The United States, 1790–2002 (ICPSR 02896-v3). Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, 2010. Machine-readable database.
Holding P. A., and Snow R. W.. “Impact of Plasmodium Falciparum Malaria on Performance and Learning: Review of the Evidence.” American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 64, no. 12 S (2001): 6875.
Hong Sok Chul. “The Burden of Early Exposure to Malaria in the United States, 1850–1860: Malnutrition and Immune Disorders.” Journal of Economic History 67, no. 4 (2007): 1001–35.
Hong Sok Chul. “Malaria and Economic Productivity: A Longitudinal Analysis of the American Case.” Journal of Economic History 71, no. 3 (2011): 654–71.
Hong Sok Chul. “Malaria: An Early Indicator of Later Disease and Work Level.” Journal of Health Economics 32, no. 3 (2013): 612–32.
Hornbeck Richard. “The Enduring Impact of the American Dust Bowl: Short- and Long-Run Adjustments to Environmental Catastrophe.” American Economic Review 102, no. 4 (2012): 1477–507.
Houghton John T., Jenkins G.J., and Ephraums J.J., eds. Climate Change: The IPCC Scientific Assessment. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Lafferty Kevin D.The Ecology of Climate Change and Infectious Diseases.” Ecology 90, no. 4 (2009): 888900.
Lawlor Debbie A., Leon David A., and Smith George D.. “The Association of Ambient Outdoor Temperature throughout Pregnancy and Offspring Birthweight: Findings from the Aberdeen Children of the 1950s Cohort.” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 112, no. 5 (2005): 647–57.
Libecap Gary D.The Assignment of Property Rights on the Western Frontier: Lessons for Contemporary Environmental and Resource Policy.” Journal of Economic History 67, no. 2 (2007): 257–91.
Maccini Sharon, and Yang Dean. “Under the Weather: Health, Schooling, and Economic Consequences of Early-Life Rainfall.” American Economic Review 99, no. 3 (2009): 1006–26.
Mendelsohn Robert, Nordhaus William D., and Shaw Daigee. “The Impact of Global Warming on Agriculture: A Ricardian Analysis.” American Economic Review 84, no. 4 (1994): 753–71.
Murray L. J., O'Reilly D. P., Betts N., et al. “Season and Outdoor Ambient Temperature: Effects on Birth Weight.” Obstetrics and Gynecology 96, no. 5 (2000): 689–95.
Olmstead Alan L., and Rhode Paul W.. Creating Abundance: Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Olmstead Alan L., and Rhode Paul W.. “Adapting North American Wheat Production to Climatic Challenges, 1839–2009.” PNAS 108, no. 2 (2011): 480–85.
Ó Gráda Cormac. “Making Famine History.” Journal of Economic Literature 45, no. 1 (2007): 538.
Patz Jonathan A., Campbell-Lendrum Diarmid, Holloway Tracey, et al. “Impact of Regional Climate Change on Human Health.” Nature 438, no. 17 (2005): 310–17.
Ruggles Steven, Genadek Katie, Goeken Ronald, et al. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 6.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 2015. Machine-readable database.
Sachs Jeffrey, and Malaney Pia. “The Economic and Social Burden of Malaria.” Nature 415 (2002): 680–85.
Schlenker Wolfram, and Roberts Michael J.. “Nonlinear Temperature Effects Indicate Severe Damages to U.S. Crop Yields under Climate Change.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106, no. 37 (2009): 15594–98.
Schlenker Wolfram, Michael Hanemann W., and Fisher Anthony C.. “Will U.S. Agriculture Really Benefit from Global Warming?: Accounting for Irrigation in the Hedonic Approach.” American Economic Review 95, no. 1 (2005): 395406.
Schlenker Wolfram, Michael Hanemann W., and Fisher Anthony C.. “The Impact of Global Warming on U.S. Agriculture: An Econometric Analysis.” Review of Economics and Statistics 88, no. 1 (2006): 113–25.
Stein Michael L. Interpolation of Spatial Data: Some Theory for Kriging. New York: Springer, 1999.
Thomas Chris D., Cameron Alison, Green Rhys E., et al. “Extinction Risk from Climate Change.” Nature 427, no. 8 (2003): 145–48.
U.S. Bureau of Census. Report on the Productions of Agriculture as Returned at the Tenth Census (June 1, 1880). Washington, DC: GPO, 1883.
U.S. Bureau of Census. U.S. Census of Agriculture: 1950. Vol. V, Special Reports, Part 6. Washington, DC: GPO, 1952.
World Health Organization, WMO, and UNEP. Climate Change and Human Health-Risks and Responses. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2003.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Bleakley and Hong supplementary material
Online Appendix

 Word (75 KB)
75 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 65
Total number of PDF views: 434 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 954 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 21st August 2017 - 19th February 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.