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The Urban Mortality Transition in the United States, 1800-1940

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  • Michael R. Haines

Abstract

In the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a substantial mortality 'penalty' to living in urban places. This circumstance was shared with other nations. By around 1940, this penalty had been largely eliminated, and it was healthier, in many cases, to reside in the city than in the countryside. Despite the lack of systematic national data before 1933, it is possible to describe the phenomenon of the urban mortality transition. Early in the 19th century, the United States was not particularly urban (only 6.1% in 1800), a circumstance which led to a relatively favorable mortality situation. A national crude death rate of 20-25 per thousand per year would have been likely. Some early data indicate that mortality was substantially higher in cities, was higher in larger relative to smaller cities, and was higher in the South relative to the North. By 1900, the nation had become about 40% urban (and 56% by 1940). It appears that death rates, especially in urban areas, actually rose (or at least did not decline) over the middle of the 19th century. Increased urbanization, as well as developments in transport and commercialization and increased movements of people into and throughout the nation, contributed to this. Rapid urban growth and an inadequate scientific understanding of disease processes contributed to the mortality crisis of the early and middle nineteenth century in American cities. The sustained mortality transition only began about the 1870s. Thereafter the decline of urban mortality proceeded faster than in rural places, assisted by significant public works improvements and advances in public health and eventually medical science. Much of the process had been completed by the 1940s. The urban penalty had been largely eliminated and mortality continued to decline despite the continued growth in the urban share of the population.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Historical Working Papers with number 0134.

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Date of creation: Jul 2001
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0134

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Cited by:
  1. Delaney, Liam & McGovern, Mark E. & Smith, James P., 2009. "From Angela's Ashes to the Celtic Tiger: Early Life Conditions and Adult Health in Ireland," IZA Discussion Papers 4548, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Siqi Zheng & Matthew E. Kahn, 2013. "Understanding China's Urban Pollution Dynamics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 51(3), pages 731-72, September.
  3. Dora L. Costa, 2004. "Race and Older Age Mortality: Evidence from Union Army Veterans," NBER Working Papers 10902, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Karen Clay & Werner Troesken, 2006. "Deprivation and Disease in Early Twentieth-Century America," NBER Working Papers 12111, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Bandiera, Oriana & Rasul, Imran & Viarengo, Martina, 2012. "The Making of Modern America: Migratory Flows in the Age of Mass Migration," CEPR Discussion Papers 9248, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Ran Abramitzky & Leah Boustan & Katherine Eriksson, 2010. "Europe's Tired, Poor, Huddled Masses: Self-Selection and Economic Outcomes in the Age of Mass Migration," Discussion Papers 09-029, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  7. Weil, David N., 2014. "Health and Economic Growth," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 3, pages 623-682 Elsevier.
  8. David M. Cutler & Adriana Lleras-Muney & Tom Vogl, 2008. "Socioeconomic Status and Health: Dimensions and Mechanisms," NBER Working Papers 14333, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Ryan Edwards, 2013. "The cost of uncertain life span," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 26(4), pages 1485-1522, October.
  10. Birchenall, Javier A., 2007. "Economic Development and the Escape from High Mortality," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 35(4), pages 543-568, April.
  11. Joseph P. Ferrie & Karen Rolf, 2011. "Socioeconomic Status in Childhood and Health After Age 70: A New Longitudinal Analysis for the U.S., 1895-2005," NBER Working Papers 17016, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Michael R. Haines & Lee A. Craig & Thomas Weiss, 2000. "Development, Health, Nutrition, and Mortality: The Case of the 'Antebellum Puzzle' in the United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0130, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Adrian Stoian & Price V. Fishback, 2009. "Welfare Spending and Mortality Rates for the Elderly Before the Social Security Era," NBER Working Papers 14970, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. daniel Scott. Smith, 2003. "Seasoning, Disease Environment, and Conditions of Exposure. New York Union Army Regiments and Soldiers," NBER Chapters, in: Health and Labor Force Participation over the Life Cycle: Evidence from the Past, pages 89-112 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Leah Platt Boustan & Devin Bunten & Owen Hearey, 2013. "Urbanization in the United States, 1800-2000," NBER Working Papers 19041, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay & Elliott Green, 2013. "Urbanization and Mortality Decline," Working Papers 46, Queen Mary, University of London, School of Business and Management, Centre for Globalisation Research.
  17. Green, Tiffany L. & Hamilton, Tod G., 2013. "Beyond black and white: Color and mortality in post-reconstruction era North Carolina," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 148-159.

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