Rise of the West: Lifespans of the European Elite, 800-1800

Rise of the West: Lifespans of the European Elite, 800-1800

New research from academic Neil Cummins, Dept. of Economic History, London School of Economics, shows that the sociodemographic differences between Western Europe and Southern Europe relating to lifespan began as early as 1000 AD (with Western Europeans living longer). Cummins also notes that the mid-16th century was a key period in European history, as the rate of death by noblemen in battle dropped from 30% before 1550 to 5% after 1550.

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Industrial revolution was key to social changes that led to increased lifespan

Cummins’ research involved examining historical data to study the lifespans of Europe’s nobility from 800 to 1800 AD. His main data sources was family trees, largely from a large collection of family tress collected by the Church of the Latter Day Saints. The data suggest that a European mortality pattern has existed since as early as 1000 AD. Cummins notes: The parts of Europe that later experience the Industrial Revolution first (the North-West) have higher lifespans than those who later lag behind (the South-East).”

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Increased Lifespan

Nobility began living notably longer

Cummins notes that predicted lifespan was largely stationary throughout Europe before 1400, but it was not a stationary trend from 1400 to 1650. He argues his data show there were “significant oscillations, most importantly the sharp Europe-wide rise in lifespan after 1400.” He also notes that “The rise is stronger over the 1400-1600 interval in Ireland, Scotland and in particular, England and Wales.”

Increased Lifespan

Other interesting facts from the dataset

Other interesting facts that could be teased out of the family tree data include that the Black Death (bubonic plague) and subsequent waves of disease killed the nobility at a lower rate than the general population and the disease was more lethal for women than for men. Moreover, peak deaths for the plague were consistently in mid- to late-summer months. This changed, however, by the 18th century, however, when plague deaths actually decreased in the summer months and increased during the winter.

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Also of note is that there is a clear “structural break in noble lifespan about 1400, where lifespan increases from around 50 to 55.”

Full study is here

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