|Siblings: A Blessing or a Curse? Family and Child Survival in the Netherlands, 1850-1930|
|In 2008, the life expectancy of Dutch women was 82,3 years, whereas for Dutch men it was 78,3 years. This is not a big surprise, because we all know about the longer life expectancy women have. However, due to a number of reasons this was and is not always the case. In non-western countries today, for example, we see that women and girls in some age groups have higher death probabilities than men. Surprisingly, this was also the case in the recent history of the Western world.
These higher death probabilities for women are found in Western societies from the eighteenth century until the 1920s. For instance, in the Netherlands between roughly 1850 and 1930, girls from age 10 onwards and women in their childbearing ages suffered from this higher mortality. For the last group, this can mostly be attributed to the risks surrounding child birth. For the younger age group, however, no clear reasons have been found yet. In several European countries, studies on this subject have been performed over the last decades. These studies mostly refer to the lower economic value girls had in the family compared to boys. This could result in neglect. However, if this really was the reason it is strange that girls did not suffer excess mortality until age 10: in this period their economic value was even lower than between the ages of 10 and 20. In the Netherlands, however, we see that below age 10 boys suffered from excess mortality.
I, therefore, want to approach these sex differences in child mortality from a different perspective. I will not only examine the higher death probabilities for girls between the ages 10 and 20, but also the excess mortality of boys below age 10. Concerning survival chances of children, several studies have already shown the impact of having (no) siblings. What did it mean if you were one of the older siblings? You probably already formed strong ties with your parents and made yourself useful within the household. However, having many younger siblings might increase the burden on your shoulders when you had to go out and work. And what about having older siblings? In that case, you were born in a relatively rich family, because your older siblings also earned an income. However, you were also an extra mouth to feed. These examples clearly show that your place within the family, in other words your birth rank, could have a serious impact on your life chances. One might also wonder what it meant if you had only sisters or only brothers or if you were an only child. In this paper, I will answer these questions using unique Dutch data at the level of the individual and his or her family. It will show the decisive importance of siblings in the survival of children.|