What are your research interests?
I am predominantly interested in economic history. The areas of health and the environment are particularly salient to me. I seek to understand how factors affecting health early in life can alter the trajectories of human capital and welfare across time. These interests have led me to study the socio-economic effects of polio epidemics, vaccines, and nuclear testing.
How did you become interested in your field of research?
Through a series of fortuitous coincidences. I started my education trying to understand human behavior and the causal factors that resulted in our contemporary world. The Great Financial Crisis occurred while I was enrolled and made me question how such catastrophic events could occur. During that time, I attended a colloquial lecture where Professor Melissa Thomasson (Miami University) explained the history of the US health care industry. In her lecture, she explained how the Gordian knot of US healthcare had its origins in price controls from World War II and how minor decisions decades prior can have massive compounding effects.
Before this, I had been studying epistemology, the philosophical study of the nature of knowledge and the conditions necessary for knowledge to exist. I was attracted to economics because the field focuses on measuring and quantifying aspects of observable social phenomena. I switched to studying economics and became quite interested in questions of how historical events can have persistent effects on socio-economic outcomes. I eventually came to work with Melissa, and she introduced me to the field of economic history.
What research question would you above all like to find the answer to? And why is that?
My current research agenda focuses on measuring the long-run socioeconomic benefits of childhood vaccination. This work is supported by an EU Marie Curie Fellowship titled VALVAX. I am studying how the Salk polio vaccine trial of 1954 shaped the health, educational, and income outcomes of those exposed to the trials.
The Salk trial involved over 1.8 million US schoolchildren between the ages 6 of 10 and introduced many to a novel vaccine. Such a large-scale event not only inoculated hundreds of thousands of children against the pathogen of polio but may have shifted public attitudes towards vaccines and healthcare more generally. I endeavour to identify the socioeconomic consequences of the Salk trials and substantiate the mechanisms through which these effects arise.
Which impact do you expect your research to have on the surrounding society?
We as researchers cannot determine how or when our research will be important. Before the recent COVID-19 pandemic, a study on the effects of the 1918 influenza pandemic was a niche area of interest. Now there has been an immense explosion of literature analyzing the consequences of the 1918 flu because it provides us a rare glimpse into a relatively infrequent phenomenon.
One thing I have learned is that people like to find answers and explanations as to why some things happen. Humans do not tend to enjoy uncertainty. The post-war period witnessed the introduction of new technologies that shaped the health environment many people grew up in. Nuclear weapons, novel vaccines, and major social programs by governments shaped the lives of many. At the very least, I hope that my research historical events can resolve some of the uncertainties surrounding people’s lived experiences. From a policy perspective, I hope that my work will support efforts to limit nuclear proliferation and combat vaccine hesitancy.
Keith Andrew Meyers
Department of Economics
What are your research interests?