Volume 26 - Article 23 | Pages 633–660

Old age, health and social inequality: Exploring the social patterns of mortality in 19th century northern Sweden

By Sören Edvinsson, Göran Broström

Print this page  Facebook  Twitter


Date received:26 Jul 2011
Date published:26 Jun 2012
Word count:6833
Keywords:19th century, life course analysis, old age mortality, social differences in mortality, Sundsvall region, Sweden


Background: Social position is one of the major determinants of health. Less is known about its effect in historical contexts. Previous studies have shown surprisingly small effects of social class in working age populations. Not much is known about social differences in health among the elderly in history.

Objective: The present paper analyses social differences in health among the elderly (60+) in the Sundsvall region in northern Sweden during the 19th century. We investigate whether social mortality differences are particularly apparent in old age when unpropertied groups lost their most important asset for survival: their capacity to work.

Methods: The data, representing 9,535 fatal events, are analysed using a Cox regression model, assuming proportional hazards.

Results: Social class had no significant effect for women during the pre-industrial period, while only those with unknown social position had higher mortality among men. During the industrial period female mortality was lowest in the skilled working class and highest in the upper class. Social position was not significant for men in the full model. Urban mortality was 30% higher for women and 59% higher for men during the pre-industrial period compared to the peripheral parishes.

Conclusions: The results lead us to question the accepted 'fact' of social health differences as a historical constant. Higher social position did not lead to better survival, and social differences in mortality did not increase in old age, despite the fact that the elderly were a highly vulnerable group. Instead, the spatial aspects of mortality were important, particularly during the pre-industrial period.

Author's Affiliation

Sören Edvinsson - Umeå Universitet, Sweden [Email]
Göran Broström - Umeå Universitet, Sweden [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» On the association between weather variability and total and cause-specific mortality before and during industrialization in Sweden
Volume 35 - Article 33

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

» Rivalry, solidarity, and longevity among siblings: A life course approach to the impact of sibship composition and birth order on later life mortality risk, Antwerp (1846-1920)
Volume 31 - Article 38    | Keywords: 19th century, life course analysis

» Changes in educational differentials in old-age mortality in Finland and Sweden between 1971-1975 and 1996-2000
Volume 26 - Article 19    | Keywords: old age mortality, Sweden

» Educational reproduction in Sweden: A replication of Skopek and Leopold 2020 using Swedish data
Volume 48 - Article 25    | Keywords: Sweden

» Disentangling the Swedish fertility decline of the 2010s
Volume 47 - Article 12    | Keywords: Sweden

» Exploring the mortality advantage of Jewish neighbourhoods in mid-19th century Amsterdam
Volume 46 - Article 25    | Keywords: 19th century