Academic journal article Demographic Research

Correlates of Infant and Childhood Mortality: A Theoretical Overview and New Evidence from the Analysis of Longitudinal Data of the Bejsce (Poland) Parish Register Reconstitution Study of the 18th-20th Centuries

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Correlates of Infant and Childhood Mortality: A Theoretical Overview and New Evidence from the Analysis of Longitudinal Data of the Bejsce (Poland) Parish Register Reconstitution Study of the 18th-20th Centuries

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper has two main goals. The first is to review the context for studying infant mortality, which includes a review of the theoretical framework, the covariates used to examine mortality over the first 60 months of life, and the major findings of empirical studies. Second, the paper adds some new empirical evidence that comes from the longitudinal reconstitution of church registers of Bejsce parish, located in the south of Poland. This rich database allows for an analysis of mortality trends of cohorts born between the 18th and 20th centuries in the parish. The analysis includes a reconstruction of descriptive measures of infant and childhood mortality, and a hazard model of mortality over the first 60 months of life. The hazard model has been calculated for each cohort separately in order to demonstrate the change in the relative importance of analyzed factors during the process of mortality decline in the parish. Obtained mortality patterns are discussed with reference to the theoretical context presented in the first part of the paper.

1. Introduction

1.1 Aims of the paper

This paper's aim is to analyze infant and childhood mortality patterns in a historical population which underwent the demographic and epidemiologic transitions. This empirical analysis refers to a theoretical context and a review of up-to-date research, which presented in the first part of the paper. Although the topic of infant and childhood mortality is one of the most popular topics in empirical demography, the motivation to raise this issue once again results from a unique opportunity to study the records of early mortality patterns over 200 years, within one historical population of Bejsce parish, located in the south of Poland. This provides a good opportunity to trace changes in the relative importance of various mortality factors during the change in fertility levels from high to low

In traditional and historical societies, infant mortality was one of the main barriers preventing the growth of populations. Over the course of the demographic transition, the improvement in infant and child survival leads to rapid population growth, and, subsequently, to a shift in reproductive behavior (Galloway, Lee, and Hammel 1998; Matthiessen and McCann 1978; Schofield, Reher, and Bideau 1991). From this perspective, the decline in fertility might be seen as a response of couples to the improvement in the survival chances of their offspring. Therefore, assuming they had no deliberate control over reproduction, most of the couples "overproduced" children. This overproduction was related to the anticipation of high and varying mortality levels during first months and years after childbirth.

For that reason, the topic of mortality at young ages is one of the "cornerstones" in demography, and it has been used for the description of demographic transitions in historical European societies (for instance: Bideau, Desjardins, and Brignoli 1997). Subsequently, elaborated models and methods were applied to the analysis of developing countries which exhibited (or still exhibit) levels and patterns of infant mortality typical for Europe in the past. Thus, this topic is still alive in demography, although the research area expanded beyond Europe and other developed countries.

The issue of infant and early childhood mortality is also important from the perspective of evolution and the ecological constraints of human reproduction and reproductive success (Voland 1998). From this perspective, what matters is not only the number of children produced, but also the number of children who reach sexual maturity and manage to reproduce themselves. Thus, from an evolutionary perspective, offspring survival is the most important factor that determines individual reproductive success. Hence, by looking at the correlates of mortality we can learn which factors could potentially increase or decrease the number of surviving offspring, and thus have an impact on reproductive success. …

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