'The folly of generalisation': infant mortality in Loughborough, Leicestershire 1888-1910

Cattell, Norma Ann (2006). 'The folly of generalisation': infant mortality in Loughborough, Leicestershire 1888-1910. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e976


In spite of much research, stretching over more than a century and across numerous countries, the rapid and widespread decline of infant mortality in Europe, which began around 1900, remains a conundrum. Here, a new source - the Vaccination Registers - brings a new perspective. The Vaccination Registers are based on copies of Civil Registers of Births and Infant Deaths. By supplying individual level data they enable us to investigate the links between infant mortality and a variety of causal factors at a much lower level of aggregation than has hitherto been possible. This thesis is mainly concerned with how to social class and the urban-rural dichotomy affect infant mortality decline, but other topics, such as housing and income; births outside marriage; multiple births; seasonality of death; and place of birth are also investigated.

The area of enquiry is the Loughborough Sub-registration District and the core period of analysis, the years 1888 - 1910. The thesis begins by describing the intellectual context of the study, followed by a description of the major sources. Prior to two chapters on the major areas of investigation, urban-rural differences and social class, I outline the locational context of the study. Chapter 7 then looks at what the vaccination registers can tell us about various related topics.

Most studies of infant mortality in the period covered by this thesis have been carried out at a relatively high level of aggregation - the country, the county or Registration District. By going behind such aggregates to much smaller areas, such as the community, the street and the household, this study will show that explanations of the level and direction of infant mortality must acknowledge, not only that no mono-causal explanation is valid, but nor is there a standard set of explanations. Rather, 'every district is a law unto itself. Not by wide, sweeping generalisations but by careful local consideration of strictly local conditions will, in time, this problem be solved' (Pooler 1918:7:).

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