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Socioeconomic inequalities in death from past to present: An introduction

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  • Bengtsson, Tommy
  • van Poppel, Frans

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Bengtsson, Tommy & van Poppel, Frans, 2011. "Socioeconomic inequalities in death from past to present: An introduction," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 343-356, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:48:y:2011:i:3:p:343-356
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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Lazuka, Volha, 2017. "The lasting health and income effects of public health formation in Sweden," Lund Papers in Economic History 153, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
    3. Jørkov, Marie Louise S., 2015. "Stature in 19th and early 20th century Copenhagen. A comparative study based on skeletal remains," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 13-26.
    4. Mackenbach, Johan P. & Kulhánová, Ivana & Bopp, Matthias & Deboosere, Patrick & Eikemo, Terje A. & Hoffmann, Rasmus & Kulik, Margarete C. & Leinsalu, Mall & Martikainen, Pekka & Menvielle, Gwenn & Reg, 2015. "Variations in the relation between education and cause-specific mortality in 19 European populations: A test of the “fundamental causes” theory of social inequalities in health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 51-62.
    5. Lazuka, Volha & Quaranta, Luciana & Bengtsson, Tommy, 2015. "Fighting Infectious Disease: Evidence from Sweden 1870-1940," IZA Discussion Papers 9313, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Elo, Irma T. & Martikainen, Pekka & Myrskylä, Mikko, 2014. "Socioeconomic status across the life course and all-cause and cause-specific mortality in Finland," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 198-206.
    7. Pilar García‐Gómez & Erik Schokkaert & Tom Van Ourti & Teresa Bago d'Uva, 2015. "Inequity in the Face of Death," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(10), pages 1348-1367, October.
    8. Finn Hedefalk & Luciana Quaranta & Tommy Bengtsson, 2017. "Unequal lands: Soil type, nutrition, and child mortality in southern Sweden, 1850-1914," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 36(36), pages 1039-1080, April.
    9. Hedefalk, Finn & Quaranta, Luciana & Bengtsson, Tommy, 2016. "Unequal lands: Soil type, nutrition and child mortality in southern Sweden, 1850-1914," Lund Papers in Economic History 148, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
    10. 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.
    11. Lindgren, Mattias, 2015. "The elusive quest for the subsistence line How much does the cost of survival vary between populations?," MPRA Paper 73891, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    12. 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.
    13. 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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