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Infantile mortality and life expectancy: vulnerability indicators in north-western Transylvanian communities (second half of the 19th century – beginning of the 20th century)

Brie, Mircea and Polgar, Istvan (2011): Infantile mortality and life expectancy: vulnerability indicators in north-western Transylvanian communities (second half of the 19th century – beginning of the 20th century). Published in: Romanian Journal of Population Studies (2011): pp. 103-122.

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Life expectancy at birth or middle age was tightly connected to mortality structure. Major mortality crises in certain years greatly reduced life expectancy in the area. High mortality rate influencing all age groups led to a considerable decrease of average age. From the point of view of life expectancy in the whole region, there was a genuine positive revolution. Mortality rate in the region as well as in Transylvania and Hungary greatly decreased, thus leading to the demographic pattern specific in Central and Western Europe at the time. The number of children dying before reaching the age of 1 and infantile mortality together with the high mortality rate at children aged 1 to 5 show that “young age group was dominant” in mortality analysis. Children were the most exposed to pressure of internal and external factors leading to death. Children were the most vulnerable in front of “death claws” in all seasons and all communities. It was a reality in all Transylvania. In spite of obvious developments as compared to 1860-1880, in 1910, there still was a high mortality rate amongst children. In Bihor, the percentage of deceased children under 5 out of the total number of children was 34.2%, and of those under 7 was 36.3%. In the Sătmar County, mortality amongst children was even higher, which has been proved by the great number of deceased children in Ghenci: out of the total number of children, 36.3% were children deceased before reaching 5, while 38.4% were under 7 in 1910. In 1900-1910, the average number of newborns was 17,547 in Bihor and 9,655 in Sătmar. In the same period, the annual average of deceased children in Bihor was 4,094 and in Sătmar was 2,198. From the average of deceased children under 1 and the average number of newborns in 1900-1910, the average infantile mortality rate was 232.95‰ in Bihor and 227.65‰ in Sătmar. Thus, there was a very high infantile mortality rate in the two counties. It was above the rate in Transylvania, where average infantile mortality rate was 206.24‰. Despite the high infantile mortality rate, there were counties where infantile mortality rate index was even higher; for instance, in Arad infantile mortality rate was 245.56‰. In the two county seats, average infantile mortality rate for 1900-1910 was lower as compared to the whole of the counties. In Oradea, infantile mortality rate was 213.25‰ and in Satu Mare it was 219.98‰. This was a world where many were born and many died. Children were the most exposed to social, economic and meteorological hardships. Throughout the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a high infantile mortality rate. Moreover, as seen in the Principality of Transylvania, infantile mortality rate was even increasing in some regions. There were several complex causes of high infantile mortality. They originated in the precarious living conditions, lack of, or inappropriate, food, lack of hygiene and qualified medical staff, inappropriate housing for newborns, lack of special care for small children; last but not least, the attempt of applying traditional adult medical “treatment” to children, etc. As parish registers show, many children died at birth or immediately after. The lack of qualified and specialised midwives to assist the mother in childbirth to provide some medical assistance to the child was another important cause of infantile mortality. Last but not least, the high infantile mortality originated in a harmful collective mentality of the people concerning physicians and sanitary system.

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