IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

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




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.

Suggested Citation

  • Ljungberg, Jonas, 2013. "A Scientific Revolution that Made Life Longer. Schooling and the Decline of Infant Mortality in Europe," Lund Papers in Economic History 127, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:luekhi:0127

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2002. "Natural Selection and the Origin of Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1133-1191.
    2. Oded Galor, 2011. "Unified Growth Theory," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 9477.
    3. Mokyr, Joel, 1993. "Technological Progress and the Decline of European Mortality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 324-330, May.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    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. 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.
    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.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item


    infant mortality; longevity; germ theory; school hygiene; schooling;

    JEL classification:

    • I00 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General - - - General
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:hhs:luekhi:0127. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Tobias Karlsson) or (Benny Carlsson). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.