Life Expectancy in the 19th Century

The current issue about the aging society would be totally uncomprehending 200 years ago. The average life expectancy for men was about 36 years and for women about 38 years. In 2010 for men this was 77 years and for women 83 years! Therefore, in the years 2000 to 2010 the life expectancy in general raised by over two years.

Motherless children, men without wives, widows – this was the normal situation in the beginning of the 19th century. The following story from one of our genealogical researches shows how the above mentioned numbers came about:

The ancestor of one of our clients married five times since four of them died off. This is, why he had 23 children of different marriages. Therefore, his last wife, the fifth one reared up all of them in addition with her own children from her previous marriage. The mortality at births was really high at these times because of the puerperal fever. Furthermore, bad hygienic conditions were lowering the chance of giving a healthy birth.

Nowadays it is also impossible to imagine how high the child and infant mortality was back then. Numerical just one of twelve children grew up and this is really dramatic. Especially foundlings who were living in homes did not survive the early childhood.

The reasons for this bad life expectancy mainly were poor nutrition, catastrophic hygienic conditions and of course illnesses which were the result of all of this conditions. In turn, it was almost impossible to prevent the rapid spread of illnesses. Just one well for example served for the whole family. Here the father took the water for the cattle, the grandmother did the laundry and finally the mother draw water for cooking.

Life expectancy

And of course mostly the common folk that was really poor suffered from epidemics. This people were living in shabby villages or lonely farmsteads. Children were running around in dirt with thin footwear during the winter and summer as well. Rats scurried trough houses and alleys.

Unfortunately, not a lot stories of the everyday lives of these people exist. They were not worthy enough to be recorded when they were born or died. In the most favorable way church books reported about the cause of the people’s death. This is very disappointing since exactly these people are ancestors from the most of us. Due to this church records genealogists are able to understand where epidemics broke out. But you should also know, that church books were not made by doctors, therefore misdiagnoses occur frequently.

Today we are changing from the industrial to a service society. To do so, first of all the society needed to get an industrial society at first. This change fulfilled in the 19th century. The foundation pillar of the society got shook and converted. The consequences of this were enormous and so a new era began. From now on people did not work in the open air but in factory halls, without any rights and occupational safety. With the new types of work, the lives of people completely changed. The platform in the dormitory for factory workers replaced the berth in the old and shabby farmstead now. The dirt of the city and the factory environment was now the playground of their children.

The grievance and therefore the social political need for action grew day by day. With the timid beginning of the social policy the average life expectancy raised. For some people a better and more qualitative life was not completely impossible anymore. At the turn of the 20th century life expectancy reached a level of an average of 45 years for men and 48 years for women. Since the beginning of this fundamental change of the society this numbers did not stop raising. On the contrary: We are even getting older and older and society converts again.