Covid-19 and major influenza pandemics since the 1950s: evidence from mortality and life expectancy evolution in Italian provinces
Benedetta Scotti1, Simone Ghislandi1
1Bocconi University

However epochal, the COVID-19 pandemic is hardly the first pandemic event in recent human history. After the Spanish flu (1918-1920), two other major flu pandemics wreaked havoc on human societies in 1957-1958 and in 1968-1970.
Still, thorough analyses of the mortality impact of these two major demographic events, particularly at the subnational level, are still lacking. In this study, we investigate the mortality patterns of the 1957-1958 and of the 1968-1970 flu pandemics at the subnational (provincial) level in Italy. We estimate that in peak years 1957 and 1969, life expectancy at birth in most affected Italian provinces was respectively 1.5-2 and 2-3.1 lower than expected. While documenting that the human costs of flu pandemics in the 1950s and 1960s were sizeable, our analysis confirms that in hardest hit areas the COVID-19 pandemic represents the major loss of human life in Italy since the end of World War II.