Jeroen Smits

Social researcher with a passion for database building

Extreme calamity years

In Figure 1 the variation in length of life inequality is shown for more or less "normal" situations. Even though the variation within and among countries is substantial, the dots occupy only a small part of the inequality/length of life space. However, sometimes extreme calamities take place -- wars, epidemics, famines -- in which life expectancy is reduced so drastically and inequality increases so much that the observation jumps out of this "normal" space.

As our database includes life tables for a number of such calamity years, we are able to give an impression of what happens with length of life inequality and life expectancy in those situations. The figures below present our data with these years included.

Most calamity data are for the World War I and World War II years and for the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Also included are French data for the Napoleonic wars (1806-1815) and the French-German war and Paris commune (1870-1871). The Sweden data include the famine of the 1770s and the Russo-Swedish war (1808-1809). For Spain the civil war (1936-1939) is included and for Finland the 1918 independence war with Russia.

The dots for the extreme calamity years are not positioned randomly in space but rather neatly to the upper left of the dots for the non-calamity years. This suggests that the relationship between length of life inequality and life expectancy in extreme calamity years does not differ fundamentally from this relationship in (more) normal years.

The relative position of the dots is, however, not completely similar; the Spanish flu year (1918) and many war years have relatively high RLI indicating that rather much young persons were affected. The Swedish famine years 1772 and 1773 have relatively low RLI, indicating that the elderly were hit relatively hard.

Another interesting observation is that the male mortality pattern is more heavily affected by wars than the female pattern, whereas the effect of the Spanish flu and famines looks about equal for males and females.