The demographic impact of the First World War : an anthropometric perspective

Harris, Bernard (1993) The demographic impact of the First World War : an anthropometric perspective. Social History of Medicine, 6 (3). pp. 343-366. ISSN 0951-631X

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During the 1970s and 1980s Jay Winter published a series of highly influential articles on the demographic impact of the First World War, culminating in his study of The Great War and the British People in 1986. Winter argued that the war led to a dramatic improvement in average living standards, and that the survival chances of most sections of the civilian population improved more rapidly than they might have done if peace had been maintained. This paper seeks to test the strength of Winter's hypothesis in three main ways. Section I examines the arguments which Winter himself put forward to support his view that the war led to unanticipated gains in the survival chances of older men, women, and infants. Section II focuses more directly on Winter's claim that the war led to a systematic erosion of pre-war differentials in infant mortality. Section III utilizes evidence relating to children's heights to examine the extent to which the war led to improvements in children's ‘nutritional status’. The paper's overall conclusion is that the war did not lead to any dramatic improvements in civilian health; the overall impression to be gained from an analysis of wartime health statistics is one of continuity rather than change.


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