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The Health of the People

Infant mortality

Reay points out that in England today only 1-2% of children die in the first five years of life. In early Victorian England, this was 25-28%. Infant and child mortality are usually treated as indicators of the health of a community. However, there is little information about health in rural parts and most of the information is concerned with conditions in the towns. There was relatively high life expectancy in the country and life seems to have been more secure among country children than in those raised in towns. There were two danger periods for death in children – early Spring from respiratory diseases and late summer or early autumn because of the risk of diarrhoea. This double peak does not show up in the parish register but the numbers are so small that it would be difficult to draw any conclusions from them.

There was a long term decline in infant mortality between 1701 and 1911. Still births and unbaptised young babies might not be buried by the vicar and so will not feature in the statistics.

In Elsfield,  the numbers of children have been broken down into those dying in the first year of life, those between the ages of one to five and older children up to the age of fourteen.

Death of Children
1841-51 1851-61 1861-71 1871-81 1881-91 1891-1901
0-1 11 7 4 2 5 3
1-5 6 2 1 0 1 0
5-14 5 1 4 0 2 1
Total 22 10 9 2 8 4

The difference in child mortality between the 1840s and the rest of the century is quite striking. Perhaps this is due to the increase in prosperity and therefore better nutrition available to families.

Age at death

Nationally, there are no peaks in the seasonality of adult deaths, as there are in childhood deaths. Most deaths occurred in winter and spring, from respiratory diseases such as influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Again the numbers in the Elsfield sample are too small to draw any conclusions. There is certainly a decline in the number of people buried per decade but the age of death does not increase with the passing of the decades, the years between 1881 and 1891 being no better than the 1841-1850 period.

Adult burials 1841-1900
Decade Number buried Average age at death
1841-1850 28 56
1851-1860 22 69
1861-1870 27 63
1871-1880 18 67
1881-1890 13 57
1891-1900 18 70


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