Claiming that “the death-rate is the best instrument for measuring the variations in the physical well-being of the people” (204), Seebohm Rowntree’s Poverty, a Study of Town Life presents tables of infant and child mortality in Leeds that correlate rates of mortality with various income groups. The results are hardly surprising: The poorest workers have 27.79 deaths per 1,000, the more prosperous group 20.71, and the most prosperous workers 18.5. “It will this be seen that the mortality amongst the very poor is more than twice as high as as amongst the best paid of the working classes” (205), and he reminds the reader that “it must be remembered that a high death-rate implies a low standard of general health, and much sickness and suffering which is not registered” (205).

Examining the deaths of children five years old and younger, reveals 13.96 deaths per among the poorest 1,000, 10.50 among the next most prosperous, and 6 among the better off workers, and the pattern is somewhat similar for infant mortality 247 children out of 1,000 infants die before twelve months old among the poorest, 184 the next, 173 among the most prosperous members of the working class, and 94 of the members of the middle classes wealthy enough to hae at least one or two servants. “We thus see that in the poorest area one child of every four dies before it is twelve months old. In one parish in this area one child of every three dies in its first year (206).”

Rowntee points to the puzzling fact that infant mortality appears to be much higher than would be expected with the most prosperous workers, and he concludes, “ As the housing conditions in this area are comparatively satisfactory, it is believed that the high mortality is largely due to ignorance regarding the feeding and management of infants, and to the close and stuffy rooms in which the children spend so large a proportion of their time. This fact indicates the need which exists for further instruction upon health subjects, even amongst the highest section of the working-classes” (207).

Links to Related Material


Gaffney, Adam. “Public Health, Social Medicine, and Industrial capitalism.” To Heal Humankind: The Right to Health in History. London: Routledge, 2018.

Rowntree, B. Seebohm (Benjamin Seebohm). Poverty, a Study of Town Life. London, Macmillan: 1902. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the Harvard University Library. Web. 2 July 2022.

Last modified 11 July 2022