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Socio-economic Differentials in Infant and Child Mortality during Mortality Decline: England and Wales, 1890-1911

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In this paper data from the 1911 Census of the Fertility of Marriage of England and Wales are used to study patterns of mortality decline by socio-economic characteristics, principally the occupation of husband. That census reported data on number of wives, children ever born, and children dead by marriage-duration cohorts for 190 non-overlapping occupations of husband. These results, along with those on number of rooms in the dwelling of the family are used to make indirect estimates of childhood mortality using the techniques described in United Nations, Manual X. These procedures produce values of q(a), the probability of dying before reaching some exact age 'a'. Estimates for q(2), q(3), q(5), q(10), q(15), and q(20) are derived from data on women married 0-4, 5-9, 10-14, 15-19, 20-24, and 25-29 years, respectively. These estimates can also be dated to a point in the past. These values can also be converted to a corresponding level of a Model West life table, which describes the 'average' mortality regime which the children of those women experienced. This furnishes a basis to look at mortality decline for various social classes and occupational groups. Ordinary least squares regressions of the levels of Model West life tables implied by the 1(a) values on time give one measure of mortality decline. Another is the absolute amount of the increase in the level of the Model West life tables from marriage-duration cohort 20-24 years to 0-4 years.

The aggregate results indicate that social class in England and Wales during the 1890s and 1900s tended to be related to the speed of mortality decline: childhood mortality declined more rapidly in the higher and more privileged social class groups. But the results were neither nearly as strong nor as regular as those which predicted the level of mortality within any marriage-duration cohort. These outcomes are not particularly sensitive to the three different social-class stratification schemes used: the 1911 English Registrar General's classification; the 1951 English Registrar General's classification; and the 1950 U.S. Census classification. There was also a fairly regular and predictable gradient for the number of rooms in the home: child mortality was higher in families who lived in larger dwellings.

Analysis of 190 detailed male occupational groups revealed that considerably more of the variation in mortality levels than of trends could be explained by social-class categories. Between 20 and 40 per cent of variation in mortality trend could be accounted for by social class alone, as opposed to 50 to 80 per cent of mortality levels for different marriage-duration cohorts. Results for a more restricted sample of 116 occupations for which income estimates could be made revealed a similar pattern. In addition, income was virtually unrelated to the pattern of mortality decline, and improvement was more rapid in groups who were more urban. This reflects the role of rapidly improving urban sanitation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in England. In contrast, income was significantly related to childhood morality levels for various marriage-duration cohorts (with higher income associated with lower mortality), while urbanization was inversely correlated with mortality levels (more urban groups experienced higher mortality). Overall, social class (or occupation group), income, and urbanization were more successful in explaining mortality levels than time trends across occupations, although social class and the extent of urbanization did reasonably well in accounting for trends.

Over a longer period, the transition in child mortality was under way by the 1890s, but its pace and timing varied in different occupations and social class groupings. Although absolute differences in infant mortality were reduced after about 1911, relative inequality persisted even as infant and child survival improved for all groups.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 1995

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