Explaining the long term decrease in the death rate
What are the Trends?
- The death rate has halved in the last century, declining from 19/1000 to 10/1000 today.
- In the first part of the century,most of this decrease was due to fewer children dying of infectious diseases, later on in the century, the continued decline is due to people living longer into old age.
- The major causes of death have changed – from mainly being due to preventable, infectious diseases in the early part of the century to ‘diseases of affluence’ such as heart disease and cancers today.
- There are considerable variations in life expectancy by gender and social class – people in the poorest parts of Glasgow die before 60, in the wealthiest parts of the UK (e.g. Kensington) life expectancy is nearer 90.
Explaining the decrease in the death rate
1. Economic growth and improving living standards
There are number of ways in which this had led to a decline in the death rate:
- better food and nutrition (which in turn is related to better transport networks and refrigeration) which has meant that children are better able to resist infectious diseases, reducing the infant and child mortality rates. This is estimated to account for 50% of the decline in the death rate.
- Better quality housing – Better heating and less damp, means less illness.
Smaller family sizes – as people get richer they have fewer children, which reduces the chances of disease transmission.
- More income = more taxation which = more money for public health services.
- Evaluation – It’s worth noting that not all people have benefited equally from the above advances. The wealthy today have longer life expectancy than the poor, who still suffer health problems related to poverty.
- Evaluation – In terms of food and nutrition, obesity is now becoming a serious problem – more food doesn’t necessarily mean better nutrition.
- Mass immunisation programmes limited the spread of infectious diseases such as measles.
- Important in improving survival rates from ‘diseases of affluence’ such as heart disease and cancers.
- Only really significant since the 1950s.
- Evaluation – It’s easy to fall into the trap into thinking that modern medicine is the most important factor in improving life expectancy, it isn’t – economic growth, rising living standards and improvements in public health are more important.
- The setting up of the NHS
- Health and safety laws – which legislate so that we have clean drinking water, food hygiene standards and safe sewage and waste disposal
- The clean air act and other policies designed to reduce pollution
- Health and Safety laws at work.
- Evaluation – These are largely taken for granted, but they are important!
- There is greater knowledge and concern about health today
- The decline of manual work means work is less physical and exhausting and less dangerous.
Overall conclusion/ analysis points
- 3/4s of the decline between the 1850s and 1970 was due to the reduction of infectious (fairly easily preventable) diseases such as Cholera, and improved nutrition accounts for half of this reduction. In these early years
- More recently, the decrease in the death rate has been due to improving survival rates from heart disease and cancers.
- The declining death rate is not necessarily all good – in the last decades we have witnessed a declining death rate and a declining birth rate – and so we now have an ageing population, which requires society to adapt in order to meet the different demands of differently structured population.
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