Skip to content

Infant and Child Mortality

Infant and child mortality more than doubled between the sixteenth and the middle of the eighteenth century in both wealthy and non-wealthy families. Mortality peaked in the middle of the eighteenth century at a very high level, with nearly two-thirds of all children, rich and poor, dying by their fifth birthday. Childbirth could also frequently be fatal for the mother. The reason for the high mortality were famine, malnutrition of the mother and child with the majority of infant deaths being caused by infections, premature births, complications during delivery, perinatal asphyxia and birth injuries. In the industrialised areas, pollution also inevitably caused harm to mother and infant. Because Eythorne was, and mainly still is, a rural agricultural area, both infant and child mortality were lower than the national average as shown in the first figure above.


Life expectancy in the United Kingdom was below 39 years in the year 1765, and over the course of the next two and a half centuries, it has increased by more than double to 81.1 by the year 2020. There are several times where the rate deviated from its previous trajectory. These changes were the result of smallpox epidemics in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, new sanitary and medical advancements throughout time (such as compulsory vaccination), and the First World War and Spanish Flu epidemic in the 1910s. Life expectancy is an average of all deaths in any period of time and is misleading in a sense because when infant and child mortality were high it pulls the average down and gives the impression that nobody lived to a ripe old age in the past. This is highly misleading and in fact, once the dangerous childhood years were passed, life expectancy in the mid-Victorian period was not markedly different from what it is today: A five-year-old girl would live to 73; a boy to 75. A wander around the graveyards in Eythorne will confirm the general longevity of its residents. We can better see this if we compare figures for Life Expectancy at Birth versus Modal Age at Death as shown in the second figure below.


The modal age at death (or the modal length of life) is the age at which the largest number of deaths occur. That is, the modal age at death is the most common age at which people die in a given year. Using modal age at death for those aged 10 years and over is particularly useful for measuring adult mortality, as it is not influenced by deaths of children at young ages and can tell us whether we are really living longer lives and how much this has changed historically.

Therefore, between 1841 and 1900 the modal age at death was much higher than life expectancy at birth. Modal age at death in 1841 was 71 for males and 77 for females and in 1900 it was 68 years and 73 years respectively. Overall modal age of death between 1841 and 1900 was relatively constant.

Vince Croud

Our sponsors - thank you!

Click below for more information