Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Longevity increased much before the Industrial Revolution

There is no doubt that average human lifetimes have considerably lengthened since Antiquity (except, maybe, Biblical times...). Improvements in living standards through better nutrition, salubrity and medicine likely were the major factors in this dramatic evolution. When this improvements started kicking in is a subject of debate, which is not helped by the fact that good data about lifetimes is difficult to come by. Written genealogical records go only so far back, and their quality and comprehensiveness declines considerably with age. And working from cemeteries is also quite unreliable, especially for longer horizons.

David de la Croix and Omar Licandro provide a very significant step towards a better understand of longevity in human history by compiling a database of 300,000 famous people spanning 25 centuries. The data includes information about location, religion, occupation, and nationality, which should take care of the major selection biases. They find that longevity was mostly flat throughout human history until it started increasing with the cohort born in the 1640s. This is before Malthus, whose assumption of stagnation is thus wrong. And this is much before the Industrial Revolution and has happened across the world and across occupations, thus the two events seem unrelated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Malthus wasn't wrong until after he penned his thesis...