Population Studies

Jennings, Julia A.*, Luciana Quaranta, and Tommy Bengtsson



We examine economic inequality and social differences in infant and child mortality, and fertility responses to food price changes in North Orkney, 1855–1910, using linked vital records. This small population featured a diverse occupational structure, limited land resources, and geographic isolation from mainland Scotland. Segments of Orkney’s non-agricultural working population were living so close to the margin of subsistence in normal years that an increase in food prices in bad years cost the lives of their children. Delayed childbearing, in addition to increased labour intensity, occupational diversification, and poor relief, failed to mitigate the negative effects of unfavourable prices in this group. While previous studies for Western Europe show a strong social gradient in mortality responses to food prices, and for Eastern Asia a strong household gradient, this study shows a strong sectoral gradient, indicating low standards of living for the non-agricultural working population well into the twentieth century.

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* Denotes CSDA Associates, Affiliates, and Staff