Survivorship and the Second Epidemiological Transition in Industrial‐era London

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Objectives The second epidemiological transition describes a shift in predominant causes of death from infectious to degenerative (non-communicable) diseases associated with the demographic transition from high to low levels of mortality and fertility. In England, the epidemiological transition followed the Industrial Revolution, but there is little reliable historical data on cause of death beforehand. Because of the association between the demographic and epidemiological transitions, skeletal data can potentially be used to examine demographic trends as a proxy for the latter. This study uses skeletal data to examine differences in survivorship in London, England in the decades preceding and following initial industrialization and the second epidemiological transition.

Materials and Methods We use data (from n = 924 adults) from London cemeteries (New Churchyard, New Bunhill Fields, St. Bride's Lower Churchyard, and St. Bride's Church Fleet Street) in use prior to and during industrialization (c. 1569–1853 CE). We assess associations between estimated adult age at death and time period (pre-industrial vs. industrial) using Kaplan–Meier survival analysis.

Results We find evidence of significantly lower adult survivorship prior to industrialization (c. 1569–1669 and 1670–1739 CE) compared to the industrial period (c. 1740–1853 CE) (p < 0.001).

Discussion Our results are consistent with historical evidence that, in London, survivorship was improving in the later 18th century, prior to the recognized beginning of the second epidemiological transition. These findings support the use of skeletal demographic data to examine the context of the second epidemiological transition in past populations.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.