Unequal lands: Soil type, nutrition, and child mortality in southern Sweden, 1850-1914

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Child mortality differed greatly within rural regions in Europe before and during the mortality transition. Little is known about the role of nutrition in such geographic differences, and about the factors affecting the nutritional status and hence the disease outcomes.

Objective: Focusing on nutrition, we analyse the effects of soil type, used as an indicator of the farm-level agricultural productivity and hence of nutritional status, on mortality of children aged 1–15 living in five rural parishes in southern Sweden, 1850–1914.

Methods: Using longitudinal demographic data combined with unique geographic microdata on residential histories, the effect of soil type on mortality risks are analysed considering as outcome all-cause mortality and mortality from nonairborne and airborne infectious diseases.

Results: Soil type primarily affected the mortality of farmers’ children, but not labourers’ children. Particularly, farmers’ children residing in areas with very high proportions of clayey till (75–100% coverage) experienced lower risks of dying compared to children residing in areas with other soil types such as clay and sandy soils.

Conclusions: Certain soil types seem to have influenced agricultural productivity, which in turn affected the nutrition of farmers’ children and thus their likelihood of dying. The results indicate the relatively important role of nutrition as a mortality predictor for these children.

Contribution: As, to our knowledge, the first longitudinal study at the microlevel that analyses the effects of soil type on mortality in a historical rural society, we contribute to the literature on the role of nutrition on the risk of dying in a preindustrial society.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economic History
  • Human Geography
  • Physical Geography


  • agricultural production systems, child mortality, geographic microdata, nutrition, Sweden
Original languageEnglish
Article number36
Pages (from-to)1039-1080
Number of pages42
JournalDemographic Research
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Apr 4
Publication categoryResearch

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Related research output

Finn Hedefalk, Luciana Quaranta & Tommy Bengtsson, 2016, Department of Economic History, Lund University, 44 p. (Lund Papers in Economic History: Population Economics; no. 2016:148).

Research output: Working paper

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