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PhD Thesis Looked into Mortality in 19th Century Estonia

10.01.2017

On 6 January, Hannaliis Jaadla from the School of Governance, Law and Society, defended her Doctoral Thesis on mortality in Estonian cities at the end of the 19th Century (based on the Lutheran population of Tartu). The thesis analysed the variables in the mortality of infants, children and adults, and their coherence with demographic, socioeconomic, cultural and sanitary environment actors.

“The second half of the 19th century was when European states went through big changes in population processes – mortality decreased and the average lifespan of the entire populace grew. The earlier work on these changes has focused on analysing the trends and levels of mortality. There is a significant shortage of research that would look into the difference in the mortality between groups of people,” explained Jaadla. She added that in order to understand the demographic shift, we need to identify which lifespan-growing innovations were the first to take place and what was their influence.

The thesis is based on three separate analyses. The first looks at death in infancy and the actors that influence it. The research compares infant deaths in various populace groups, focusing on demographic, cultural and socioeconomic actors. The research shows that infant deaths varied greatly, depending on their social group. The risk of dying at infancy was increased by the number of older siblings and extramarital births – being born outside of wedlock increased the probability of death three times.

“Oftentimes the central factor in the decrease of infant and child mortality during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century is seen to be the improvement of the living and sanitary environment, especially the access to clean drinking water,” Jaadla added. This is why her second research continued with infant mortality, but this time it focused on the effect of access to water and sanitary living quarters. The research was based on the unique data collected by the hygiene professor Körber. “Access to clean water was the biggest risk factor in Tartu in the 19th century, but the infant was at risk by many other sanitary factors, as well during their first year of life. This helps us to see that abandoning contaminated natural water bodies might have had a substantial influence on decreasing mortality already decades before implementing piping and water cleaning systems,” she noted.

The third research looked at the socioeconomic and national variables in child and adult mortality. Interestingly, there was no advantage to being a man with higher education, which can be an indication of the difference in the lifestyles of men and women. Contrary to expectations, Baltic Germans did not live longer lives than Estonians.

This is the first research into mortality during the demographic shift that focuses on individuals and links the results to event count data. The results help comprehend the developments of mortality in Estonia during the early stages of the epidemiologic shift.

Hannaliis Jaadla’s thesis “Mortality in the Lutheran Population of Tartu at the end of the 19th Century” was supervised by research professor Allan Puur (Tallinn University) and senior researcher Martin Klesment (Tallinn University). Her opponents were Professor Gunnar Thorvaldsen from the Arctic University of Norway, and lecturer Alice Reid from University of Cambridge. The thesis can be accessed via the TU Academic Library E-vault ETERA.