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Socioeconomic inequalities in death from past to present: An introduction

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  • Bengtsson, Tommy
  • van Poppel, Frans
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    Abstract

    In the early postwar period, improvements in life expectancy in many Western countries made health authorities, health scientists and politicians believe that social differences in mortality converged. The assumption was that inequality, when measured as death rates, was on steady decline, possibly even on the brink of disappearing. The question is then, how far back in time can social differences in mortality be traced? Can they be traced back to the agricultural society or are they a result of industrialization? Whether or not these differences are the result of the industrial revolution became a lively debated issue at the time and has continued to be discussed to date. While many scholars have taken a Malthusian view, that mortality in the past was largely determined by economic factors, others argue that mortality was determined by non-economic factors, leaving little room for a social gradient in mortality. Due to lack of coherent data covering long time periods, our knowledge has been based on bits and pieces of evidence from various locations and time periods. The evidence used is not only fragmentary but furthermore only partly comparable as different definitions of social class and mortality have been used. Here we present results from seven new studies of locations in Western and Southern Europe, the US and Canada for which individual-level longitudinal data exists during the industrialization period. Most of these studies cover also the first part of the twentieth century, a period for which such microdata hitherto has largely been lacking. Taken together, they have a wide geographic coverage and a very long time horizon. Based on these studies, we argue that social differences appeared both long before and long after the industrial breakthrough, in both cases implying that these differences are not directly related to industrialization. We also argue that the association between income and mortality observed today most likely is a recent phenomenon. Overall, a causal link between income and mortality is put into question.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Explorations in Economic History.

    Volume (Year): 48 (2011)
    Issue (Month): 3 (July)
    Pages: 343-356

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:48:y:2011:i:3:p:343-356

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    Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622830

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    Keywords: Adult mortality SES differentials Life expectancy 18th-20th century Europe North America Inequality Living conditions;

    References

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    Cited by:
    1. Gagnon, Alain & Tremblay, Marc & Vézina, Hélène & Seabrook, Jamie A., 2011. "Once were farmers: Occupation, social mobility, and mortality during industrialization in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec 1840-1971," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 429-440, July.
    2. Pilar Garcia-Gomez & Erik Schokkaert & Tom Van Ourti & Teresa Bago d'Uva, 2012. "Inequity in the Face of Death," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 12-084/3, Tinbergen Institute.
    3. Edvinsson, Sören & Lindkvist, Marie, 2011. "Wealth and health in 19th Century Sweden. A study of social differences in adult mortality in the Sundsvall region," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 376-388, July.
    4. Ohlsson, Henry & Roine, Jesper & Waldenström, Daniel, 2014. "Inherited wealth over the path of development: Sweden, 1810–2010," Working Paper Series, Center for Fiscal Studies 2014:7, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
    5. GARCIA-GOMEZ, Pilar & SCHOKKAERT, Erik & VAN OURTI, Tom & BAGO D’UVA, Teresa, 2012. "Inequity in the face of death," CORE Discussion Papers 2012024, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
    6. Bengtsson, Tommy & Dribe, Martin, 2011. "The late emergence of socioeconomic mortality differentials: A micro-level study of adult mortality in southern Sweden 1815-1968," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 389-400, July.

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