Social Status, War, Medical Knowledge, and the Timing of Life Expectancy Improvements Among Germanic Scholars Over the 15th–19th Centuries

Robert Stelter , Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
David de la Croix, Université Catholique de Louvain
Mikko Myrskyla, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

When did mortality start to decline, and among whom? We build a large new data set covering over five centuries to analyze the timing of mortality decline and the heterogeneity in the pace of progress among scholars in the Holy Roman Empire. After having recovered from a strong 17th century mortality crisis, life expectancy started to increase already early in the 18th century, well before the Industrial Revolution. This fluctuation in mortality directly influenced life expectancy and number of scholars and thus had important implications for the capacity for knowledge accumulation and diffusion. We document that scholars in the medical profession had no mortality advantage over other scholars, suggesting that medical knowledge was ineffective. However, members of scientific academies – an elite among the scholars – had a life expectancy advantage already starting in 1700, suggesting that already 300 years ago high social status conferred advantages that lower mortality.

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 Presented in Session 89. Socioeconomic Status and Health