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Nineteenth‐century mortality trends: A reply to Szreter and Mooney

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Davenport, Romola J.  ORCID logo


Abstract: In a recent article in this journal I challenged Szreter and Mooney's account of a mortality crisis in English industrial and manufacturing cities in the period c. 1830–1850. I argued, first, that there was no robust evidence for a major fall in urban life expectancies in this period; second, that there was evidence for a rise in mortality in early childhood, but that this rise occurred in rural as well as urban populations, and persisted until the 1860s; and third, that an increase in virulence of scarlet fever made a major contribution to this rise. Szreter and Mooney contested these conclusions on two main grounds: that my methodology for estimating urban life expectancies differed from theirs; and that the geography and chronology of scarlet fever patterns did not fit those of early childhood mortality. Here I demonstrate that these criticisms are invalid. Using their methodology I still find no evidence for a dramatic drop in urban life expectancies in the 1830s–40s. I also present new evidence that scarlet fever was a major cause of childhood mortality by the late 1830s and 1840s, in rural as well as urban populations, and could therefore account for the observed rise in early childhood mortality in this period.


Funder: The Leverhulme Trust and the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science


ORIGINAL ARTICLE, ORIGINAL ARTICLES, childhood mortality, industrialization, life expectancy, scarlet fever, standard of living, urbanization

Journal Title

The Economic History Review

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Wellcome Trust (103322)