From ague to pyrexia and from smallpox to heart disease: a general overview of causes of death in Scotland 1855-1955

Reid, A., Garrett, E., Dibben, C. & Williamson, L. (2013) British Society for Population Studies (BSPS) Swansea, 9-11 Sep 2013

Other information: This paper provides a broad overview of mortality in Scotland for the century following the inception of civil registration in 1855. A newly created dataset comprising the detailed returns of deaths by cause of death, age and year as given in the Annual Reports of the Registrar General for Scotland will be used. The role of variations in nosologies, developments in medical knowledge and fashions, differences in age structure and the evolution of the disease environment in the changes in causes of death reported at the national level between 1855 and 1955 will be examined. Numbers of deaths were published annually by the Registrar General for Scotland by age, sex and cause. In 1855 deaths were classified into 109 causes; by 1949 255 separate causes were enumerated. The way individual causes were recorded varied over time, resulting in nearly 1000 distinct descriptors. These have been re-coded and regrouped so as to maintain (as far as possible) consistent causal groupings across time. The resulting time series enables numbers of deaths, as well as crude, age-specific and standardised death rates, to be considered by sex and cause over time. Broad trends will be presented, and comparisons of the various measures allow the roles of changing age structure and the decline in infectious disease in the overall decline of mortality to be assessed. The data will also be used to comment on Flinn’s version of the McKeown thesis regarding the reasons for mortality decline in Scotland.

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