For several historians, the decline in mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa has been one of the major factors contributing to the substantial rise in sub-Saharan population growth in the 20th century (Caldwell, 1985). The extent to which this argument holds has, however, received little attention from quantitatively-oriented historical demographers. Studies ... (Show more)
For several historians, the decline in mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa has been one of the major factors contributing to the substantial rise in sub-Saharan population growth in the 20th century (Caldwell, 1985). The extent to which this argument holds has, however, received little attention from quantitatively-oriented historical demographers. Studies quantifying demographic rates primarily focus on the post-1960 period. Recent research using individual-level data has started to shed more light on changes in pre-1960 mortality patterns in some regions of east and southern Africa (see Walters, 2021). Yet, French-speaking West Africa during the colonial era remains understudied (with the exception of Lacombe, 1970), despite the long-lasting legacies of colonialism on demographic regimes (Walters, 2021). In this paper, I will attempt to contribute to closing this gap in West African historical demography, using individual-level data from Senegalese vital registration statistics for the period 1880-1913 to study developments in infant mortality. Limited to the cities along the Senegalese coast, the relatively complete vital event sources on births and mortality contain a sufficient number of certificates to, alongside reconstructing infant mortality rates, examine the role of social class and race. To limit potential biases caused by out-migration, I limit the analysis to deaths occurring in infancy, which is a strong indicator of the overall mortality regime, despite focusing on deaths occurring in the first year (Volk and Atkinson, 2013). By studying four cities of colonial Senegal, Saint Louis (northwest), Dakar, Rufisque (west), and Ziguinchor (southwest), I will try to quantify whether regional, social class, or ethnic differences (European versus African) explain differences in mortality.
To analyze the developments in infant mortality, I focus on certain key years at approximately 10-year intervals. Birth certificates will be selected for 1880, 1891, 1904, and 1912. Employing a life-table analysis, registered deaths of the infants will be linked to the birth certificates to gain an estimation of the infant mortality rate. The years have been selected because they allow for a comparison with data coming from the colonial administrative censuses of 1891 and 1904. Once the risk of dying in the first year of life has been estimated, the data will be analyzed using a Cox proportional hazards regression to investigate which factors contribute to differences and changes in urban mortality. In addition, I will examine whether urban mortality rates were reduced in the early colonial period, as some have claimed occurred in urban Nigeria (Caldwell, 1985).
Caldwell, John C. 1985. “The Social Repercussions of Colonial Rule: Demographic Aspects.” In General History of Africa VII: Africa Under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935, edited by A. Adu Boahen, 458-486. London: Heinemann Educational Books.
Lacombe, Bernard. 1970. Fakao (Sénégal) Dépouillement de Registres Paroissiaux et Enquête Démographique Rétrospective : Méthodologie et résultats. Paris: ORSTROM.
Volk, Anthony A. and Jeremy A. Atkinson. 2013. “Infant and Child Death in the Human Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation.” Evolution and Human Behavior 34, no. 3: 182-192.
Walters, Sarah. 2021. “African Population History: Contributions of Moral Demography. The Journal of African History 62, no. 1: 183-200. (Show less)