Infant and child mortality among immigrant groups in the United States, 1890-1910

Martin Dribe, Lund University
J. David Hacker, University of Minnesota

The United States has long struggled with difficulties associated with immigration. During the “classic” period of largely unrestricted immigration between the American Civil War and the introduction of stringent numerical quotas in the 1920s, the foreign born population composed between 13 and 15 percent of the overall population, the highest percentages in U.S. history. The health and well-being of immigrant groups and their integration into American society has been a topic of social research for over a century. Much remains unknown, however. Although it is clear that trajectories differed markedly across immigrant groups and between immigrants, second generation immigrants and the native born population, we know relatively little about health and mortality inequalities among different groups. Recent research on immigrant communities has highlighted important roles of migrant selection and the success or failure of social and economic integration. What role did these processes play in the creation of mortality inequalities during the peak years of immigration? Are there assimilation effects on infant and child mortality and did these effects vary among immigrant groups?

In this paper we estimate infant and child mortality among 17 immigrant groups in 1900 and 1910, 17 second generation groups, and the native born white and black populations of native parentage. We then model that mortality as a function a rich set of social, economic, and demographic variables. Our data come from new high density samples of the censuses, which included several questions designed to measure immigrants’ social and economic integration (e.g., nativity, parental nativity, mother tongue, occupation, literacy, ability to speak English, year of immigration, citizenship status, etc.). We supplement these data with new measures of neighborhood characteristics constructed from new complete-count census data collected by, which allow us to test hypotheses related to the influence of couples’ environment and neighbors on child mortality.

Presented in Session 95: Trends and impact of infant/child mortality in the past