‘A confession of ignorance’ : deaths from old age and deciphering cause-of-death statistics in Scotland, 1855–1949
MetadataShow full item record
A large amount of the research undertaken in an attempt to discover the reasons underlying the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century mortality decline in Britain has relied on the statistics published by the Registrars General. The processes by which individual causes of death are recorded and then processed in order to create the statistics are not, however, well understood. In this article, the authors build on previous work to piece together a time series of causes of death for Scotland, which removes many of the discontinuities encountered in the published statistics that result from the Registrar General deciding to update the nosology, or classification system, which was being used to compile his figures. Having regrouped individual causes of death to ‘smooth’ the time series, the authors use the new groups to examine the changing causes of death in Scotland for selected age groups, before turning to undertake a detailed examination of mortality amongst those aged 55 or more. The authors find that when deaths from ‘old age’ in the latter age group are separated from other ‘ill-defined’ causes, it becomes obvious that there was a ‘rebranding’ of cause of death. The authors then use individual-level data from two Scottish communities to further dissect the roles played by ‘informants’ and ‘doctors’ in this rebranding, in order to see how these roles may have altered over time and what the consequences might be for one's view of how mortality changed in Scotland between 1855 and 1949. Finally, the authors argue that their findings have important implications for some of historical demography's most prominent theories: the McKeown thesis and the theory of epidemiological transition.
Reid , A , Garrett , E , Dibben , C & Williamson , L 2015 , ' ‘A confession of ignorance’ : deaths from old age and deciphering cause-of-death statistics in Scotland, 1855–1949 ' History of the Family . DOI: 10.1080/1081602X.2014.1001768
History of the Family
© 2015 The Author(s). Published by Taylor & Francis. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The moral rights of the named author(s) have been asserted. Permission is granted subject to the terms of the License under which the work was published. Please check the License conditions for the work which you wish to reuse. Full and appropriate attribution must be given. This permission does not cover any third party copyrighted material which may appear in the work requested.
Items in the St Andrews Research Repository are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.