The Effect of Strikes on Health

Källarsalen Session 7: Health crises: plagues and strikes organized by Nicolas Maughan


Nikolaos Prodromidis


This paper examines the health effects of labor strikes in Sweden during the early 20th century. Worker-employer disagreements over wages and working conditions often resulted in work stoppages in the form of strikes, and Sweden experienced a significant number of strikes during this period, making it one of the world’s leaders in industrial disputes [Korpi and Shalev, 1979]. By studying the health impacts of these strikes, this research aims to shed light on the consequences of labor disputes for workers and their families. While strikes are a common form of labor dispute, limited research has been conducted about their potential health effects. Specifically, this study investigates whether strikes led to changes in mortality measures. To estimate the causal effect of strikes on health, this study uses a unique historical quasi-experiment: the staggered adoption of strikes across Sweden between 1908 and 1927. I exploit the time-parish variation of the strikes and estimate staggered difference-in-differences models and event studies. The identification strategy relies on the exogenous variation of the time of the strike, assuming that the exact date of the strike is exogenous and not influenced by the mortality patterns in the parish. Sensitivity analyses are conducted to evaluate the validity of the identification strategy. This study contributes to the literature on the relationship between strikes and health by examining strikes across various work sectors, in contrast to previous studies that focused exclusively on transportation or healthcare sectors [Gruber and Kleiner, 2012; Adda, 2016; Bauernschuster et al., 2017; Karlsson and Schwarz, 2021; Hirani et al., 2022; Costa, 2022; Friedman et al., 2022]. The research uses administrative reports to identify the strikes, which provide rich background information on the exact date, place, and causes of the strikes [Enflo and Karlsson, 2019; Molinder et al., 2021, 2022]. Mortality measures are derived from administrative sources that cover the entire population. In addition, digitized individual-level death certificates from 1918 to 1920 with cause-of-death are used. The study also uses linked data from the 1900 and 1910 Censuses to provide information on important demographic and socioeconomic indicators. The study finds that strikes during the Great Influenza Pandemic increased the mortality rate in the subsequent weeks. Compared to a baseline weekly mortality rate of 0.3 per 1,000 population, strikes during the pandemic resulted in a 16 percent increase in the weekly mortality rate, which translates to an estimated 750 additional deaths over the course of the pandemic. This finding is driven by influenza-related deaths among the workers. The study finds that these effects emerged in areas without containment measures (such as gathering bans) in place, providing support for the idea that the mass gatherings associated with the strikes propagated respiratory disease transmission. However, strikes outside of periods of elevated disease prevalence do not appear to have a significant effect on mortality. By examining the health effects of labor strikes in Sweden during the early 20th century, this study makes a novel contribution to our understanding of the complex relationship between employment and health.


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