Social and political determinants of mortality

February, 2019

Lutheran Church of Picada 48, inaugurated in 1850, with tower added in 1901 (Courtesy of Miqueias H. Mugge).

Princeton researchers João Biehl, Miquéias Henrique Mugge and Ana Maria Goldani, of the Brazilian Lab, examine maternal and infant mortality in Lutheran German communities in São Leopoldo Colony between 1850 and 1880.

 “The books of the dead revisited: mortality and morbidity in the German colonies of southern Brazil, 1850-1880” (HCSM vol.25 no.4 Oct./Dec. 2018) contributes to debates over social and political determinants of mortality.

It analyzes the Gemeindebücher (parish registers) produced by Lutheran communities. These “community books” reveal high rates of fertility and premature death.  Over half of all deaths were of infants and children.

The paper concludes that the precarious living environment was suffused with both fertility and untimely death, and everyday life was punctuated by infections and epidemic outbreaks such as cholera and smallpox.

In this context, according to the article, child death extended far beyond the neonatal period. Between 1850 and 1880, more than half (53.1%) of all deaths recorded were of infants and children (0-14 years).

See in Manguinhos:

HCS-Manguinhos “Labor, childbirth and infant mortality: knowledge, reflections and perspectives” (vol.25 no.4 Oct./Dec. 2018).


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