Laura Calderwood

Differential Infant and Childhood Morbidity and Mortality in 19th century London

Supervisors: Holger Schutkowski and Jo Buckberry
Funding: AHRC

The majority of archaeological evidence for children in the past, from written texts to burials, has been constructed by the adult members of the population. Consequently, research has focused on adult attitudes towards children, rather than on the lives of the children themselves. Yet children are more sensitive to environmental and cultural factors than any other member of society, and the study of health, disease and mortality among children can provide a wealth of information about the cultural and biological circumstances of a population. For the first time, the research proposed here will examine the physical remains of children to provide a unique insight into gender-related differences in the experience of childhood in the 19th century.

Higher male than female mortality rates have been observed in most non-adult age groups since the 17th century. This male mortality disadvantage is said to begin in utero, with a second X chromosome affording some biological advantage to females. However, the strength of the male disadvantage depends on various environmental, social and economic conditions. Current knowledge of infant and childhood morbidity and mortality in 19th century England is based primarily on Civil Registration data, yet these records are deemed unreliable, particularly regarding age-at-death and disease classification. Moreover, very few studies examining infant and childhood mortality between 1800 and the start of Civil Registration in 1837 exist at all, thus the history of childhood health, disease and mortality in England remains incomplete.

The research proposed here will use the skeletal record, as the primary and most direct evidence available, to investigate sex differences in morbidity and mortality for infants and children in 19th-century London.

Last Updated:15 February 2010