19th Century American Mortality

The 1860 census contains indicators that provide a peephole into death in the middle of the 19th century in the United States.

The census provides two statistics for the mortality rate:

  • Population Per 1 Death of 79
  • Deaths Percent of (population) 1.28%

The population at the census was roughly 31 million and the total number of deaths in the report were 394,123.

The report provides mortality rates for the Population Per 1 Death statistic for other countries and here are a few examples.

  • Norway — 56
  • England — 44
  • Netherlands — 39
  • Prussia — 36

The census report’s explanation for the much better mortality rate is the “youthful character of the American population, sustained by constant immigration.”

Male slaves had the highest rate of death at 1.8% and white females had the lowest with 1.16%. White males had a rate of 1.25% and the difference is material when compared to male slaves. If male slaves died at the white male rate, there would have been 21,742 fewer male slave deaths annually.

Convert the overall slave death rate to Population Per 1 Death and you get 56 which is better than all the countries in the report except for Norway. Some of this is likely explained by the older average age in Europe. There was a small difference between the overall white rate (1.21%) and the free black rate (1.28%). All of this points to the unsurprising fact that slaves died at greater rate than free people in the United States, an evil consequence of slavery.

For whatever reason though, slaves made up a disproportionate number of centenarian deaths in the 1860 census. The total deaths of people aged 100 or more was 466. 137 were whites, 39 free blacks, and 290 slaves. 215 of the free blacks and slaves were reported as dying at the age of 100 indicating estimation due to poor records. “The three oldest of the record, are two deaths of slaves in Alabama at the age of 130 years each, and one in Georgia at the age of 137 years.”



Career consultant turned substitute teacher and writer. I enjoy the outdoors and poker. www.trudgetotruth.com

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