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A Scientific Revolution that Made Life Longer. Schooling and the Decline of Infant Mortality in Europe

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    This paper addresses the decline in infant mortality that occurred with a remarkable synchronization across Europe around the turn of the century 1900. It is the argument of this paper that this development is not just, as in the conventional view, the side effect of economic growth but could be derived through a cumulative chain of events, starting with the discovery of the germ theory. Mokyr has argued, that notwithstanding the ubiquitous impact of the germ theory in several fields, its first big effect, as a decline in mortality, came through changed behaviour in the household. What makes this plausible is that the turn-down occurred at the about the same time irrespective of the wide variations in levels of infant mortality, and irrespective of levels of aggregate income and economic growth. Growth was certainly crucial for sustaining the decline in mortality but the synchronized change of the trend draws attention to a shift in behaviour. A critical question for this argument is if the germ theory and its implications were so quickly and widely diffused. Schooling was an instrument for this diffusion and could be so since there existed an international movement around school hygiene which made the impact of the germ theory more pervasive than if it had only influenced via the curriculum. This hypothesis is supported by a cross-country model which singles out the enrolment in primary schools as an explanatory factor for the decline in infant mortality 1890-1910, and the more so when female enrolment is considered.

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    File URL: http://www.ekh.lu.se/media/ekh/forskning/lund_papers_in_economic_history/127.pdf
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    Paper provided by Department of Economic History, Lund University in its series Lund Papers in Economic History with number 127.

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    Length: 26 pages
    Date of creation: 20 Feb 2013
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:hhs:luekhi:0127
    Contact details of provider: Postal: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Box 7083, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden
    Phone: +46 46-222 00 00
    Fax: +46 46-13 15 85
    Web page: http://www.ekh.lu.se/

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    1. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2002. "Natural Selection And The Origin Of Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1133-1191, November.
    2. Jamison, Eliot A. & Jamison, Dean T. & Hanushek, Eric A., 2007. "The effects of education quality on income growth and mortality decline," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 26(6), pages 771-788, December.
    3. Carlo A. Corsini & Pier Paolo Viazzo, 1993. "The Decline of Infant Mortality in Europe, 1800-1950: Four national case studies," Papers hisper93/3, Historical Perspectives.
    4. Jonas Ljungberg & Anders Nilsson, 2009. "Human capital and economic growth: Sweden 1870–2000," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 3(1), pages 71-95, January.
    5. Robert Millward & Frances Bell, 2001. "Infant Mortality in Victorian Britain: The Mother as Medium[Thanks are]," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 54(4), pages 699-733, November.
    6. Samuel H. Preston, 1996. "American Longevity: Past, Present, and Future," Center for Policy Research Policy Briefs 7, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
    7. Mokyr, Joel, 1993. "Technological Progress and the Decline of European Mortality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 324-30, May.
    8. Mokyr, Joel, 2000. "Why “More Work for Mother?” Knowledge and Household Behavior, 1870–1945," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 60(01), pages 1-41, March.
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