Economics Seminar Series

Allison Shertzer, Univerisity of Pittsbugh

The Value of Piped Water and Sewers: Evidence from 19th Century Chicago

Dr Allison Shertzer.

Dr Allison Shertzer

with Michael Coury (Pitt), Toru Kitagawa (Brown), and Matthew Turner (Brown)

We estimate the impact of sanitary sewers and piped water on property values in mid-19th century Chicago. The feasibility of gravity-fed sanitary sewers depends sensitively on otherwise imperceptible variation in grade. Even in famously flat Chicago, such imperceptible variations in grade delayed the provision of piped water and sewer service to a part of Chicago that is otherwise similar to areas that received service earlier. We exploit this delay as a source of quasi-random variation in the assignment of sanitary sewers and piped water to parcels. Together with historical maps of the sewer network and purpose-collected property transaction data, this design allows for causal estimates of the value of plumbing. We estimate that piped water and sewer access increased property values by about 250%. Comparing to the cost of construction suggests that benefits of just four years of piped water and sewer service exceeded costs by about a factor of seven. These estimates improve our understanding of the importance of plumbing on the development of the U.S. economy and our ability to evaluate piped water and sewer projects in developing economies.  


DATE: Friday, October 15, 2021 

TIME: 3:00-5:00 p.m. (earlier time)

LOCATION: zoom link forthcoming