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Socioeconomic Differences in the Health of Black Union Army Soldiers

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  • Chulhee Lee

Abstract

This paper investigates patterns of socioeconomic difference in the wartime morbidity and mortality of black Union Army soldiers. Among the factors that contributed to a lower probability of contracting and dying from diseases were (1) lighter skin color, (2) a non-field occupation, (3) residence on a large plantation, and (4) residence in a rural area prior to enlistment. Patterns of disease-specific mortality and timing of death suggest that the differences in the development of immunity against diseases and in nutritional status prior to enlistment were responsible for the observed socioeconomic differences in wartime health. For example, the advantages of light-skinned soldiers over dark-skinned and of enlisted men formerly engaged in non-field occupations over field hands resulted from differences in nutritional status. The lower wartime mortality of ex-slaves from large plantations can be explained by their better-developed immunity as well as superior nutritional status. The results of this paper suggest that there were substantial disparities in the health of the slave population on the eve of the Civil War.

Suggested Citation

  • Chulhee Lee, 2009. "Socioeconomic Differences in the Health of Black Union Army Soldiers," NBER Working Papers 14745, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14745
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Pritchett Jonathan B. & Tunali Insan, 1995. "Strangers' Disease: Determinants of Yellow Fever Mortality during the New Orleans Epidemic of 1853," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 517-539, October.
    2. Samuel H. Preston & Michael R. Haines, 1991. "Fatal Years: Child Mortality in Late Nineteenth-Century America," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number pres91-1.
    3. Lee, Chulhee, 1997. "Socioeconomic Background, Disease, and Mortality among Union Army Recruits: Implications for Economic and Demographic History," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 27-55, January.
    4. Stephen J. Kunitz, 1983. "Speculations on the European Mortality Decline," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 36(3), pages 349-364, August.
    5. Steckel, Richard H., 1986. "A Peculiar Population: The Nutrition, Health, and Mortality of American Slaves from Childhood to Maturity," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(03), pages 721-741, September.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N41 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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