UT Economist Wins Arrow Award for Research on Tuskegee Syphilis Study

May 13, 2019

Marianne Wanamaker, an associate professor of economics in the Haslam College of Business, has been named a co-recipient of the International Health Economics Association’s Arrow Award for research showing the Tuskegee syphilis study decreased the overall life expectancy of black men.

Tuskegee and the Health of Black Men,” published in Quarterly Journal of Economics in February 2018, was co-authored by Wanamaker and Marcella Alsan, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University. It examined the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, which the United States Public Health Service began in 1932 to understand the natural course of the disease. It was later ruled that researchers had misled hundreds of men over the study’s 40-year course. Participants were not offered penicillin when it became widely used as treatment.

Wanamaker and Alsan found the Tuskegee study reduced trust in the medical community among older black men. Their research showed that this group was less likely to get medical care and, in turn, their mortality rate was higher. The life expectancy for 45-year-old black men decreased by 1.5 years compared to other demographics in the aftermath of the study, accounting for 35 percent of the life expectancy gap between black and white men in 1980.

“Our goal in this research was to shine a light on the population-wide effects of this egregious abuse of trust,” Wanamaker said. “Having the IHEA recognize this work with the Arrow Award helps us achieve that goal. It also is a great honor to be part of the illustrious group of previous award recipients.”

IHEA’s Arrow Award committee called Wanamaker and Alsan’s work “innovative and informative,” and named it the best paper in health economics in 2018. The Arrow Award is named for the late Nobel Prize-winning economist and mathematician Kenneth J. Arrow. It has been awarded annually since 1993.

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CONTACT:

Erin Hatfield (865-974-6086, ehatfie1@utk.edu)