The New Poor Law and the Health of the Population of England and Wales

Graham Mooney, Johns Hopkins University
Gabriel Mesevage, King’s College London
David Green, Kings College London
Simon R.S. Szreter, University of Cambridge

We estimate the impact of mid-19th century poor law expenditure on mortality using a newly constructed data set of poor law expenditure and historical life-expectancy and mortality rates by gender and age-group covering the 130 most rural Registration Districts. We find that changes in poor law expenditure had substantial effects on early-childhood mortality and smaller effects on infant mortality, resulting in a large impact on overall life-expectancy. There is little detectable effect for older age groups. This finding is unchanged across lagged-dependent variable and instrumental variable estimates and is robust to relaxation of the exclusion restriction in a Bayesian model. The effect is large: a 1-standard-deviation decrease in expenditure is associated with roughly a 0.6-1.0 year reduction in life-expectancy. We also find the effects to be heterogenous, most marked in regions with low per-capita poor law expenditure. This results in substantial regional heterogeneity, with the agricultural south much less affected by the cuts that occurred after 1834 than the rest of the country. These results help to explain the weak performance of mid-19th century life-expectancy measures during a period of rising real wages but falling welfare expenditure.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 40. Religion, Race, Policy and Socioeconomic status: Mortality in 19th and 20th century UK and US