Robert J. Barro, José F. Ursua, Joanna Weng: The Coronavirus and the Great Influenza Epidemic. Lessons from the “Spanish Flu” for the Coronavirus’s Potential Effects on Mortality and Economic Activity, in: NBER Working Paper Series, Working Paper 26866, March/April 2020.
According to the authors of this paper, mortality and economic contraction during the 1918-1920 Great Influenza Pandemic provide plausible upper bounds for outcomes under the coronavirus (COVID-19). Data for 48 countries imply flu-related deaths in 1918-1920 of 40 million, 2.1 percent of world population, implying 150 million deaths when applied to current population. Regressions with annual information on flu deaths 1918-1920 and war deaths during WWI imply flu-generated economic declines for GDP and consumption in the typical country of 6 and 8 percent, respectively. There is also some evidence that higher flu death rates decreased realized real returns on stocks and, especially, on short-term government bills.