Socioeconomic Differences in Mortality Among European Settlers in Pre-Colonial Western Africa

Stefan Öberg, Klas Rönnback


Socioeconomic differences in adult mortality are found consistently in high-income countries today. Previous studies have shown that there were, in contrast, no such differences before the twentieth century. The importance of infectious diseases as causes of death and lack of knowledge on how to prevent or cure diseases have been suggested as explanations for this. We investigate the differences in mortality between occupational groups among Europeans working on the west coast of Africa between 1683 and 1766. We use a newly constructed longitudinal dataset covering four different locations along the coast. There were no differences in mortality between the occupational groups when we analyzed all data jointly. The mortality was higher for some groups in some places but there is no consistent pattern in the differences when we then analyzed each location separately. To our surprise, we do find that the mortality was clearly lower for the civilian upper class when we focus on our best data. These results force us to allow for that there was something about the nutritional or health status, lifestyle or preventive measures of the upper class that protected them from some of the dangers they faced.

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