Romola Davenport BA, BA, MSc PhD
Senior Research Associate, Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure
Demographer with interests in mortality and the history of medicine, particularly epidemiological changes in urban societies from c.1700 to the present, and the relative importance of different causes of death to age and sex patterns of mortality in different societies.
After completing two undergraduate degrees in various subjects (History, Modern Chinese and Botany), I did a Ph.D. in plant physiology in Cambridge and then worked for seven years as a research fellow in the Plant Sciences Dept there, investigating the causes of salt sensitivity in crop plants grown in saline soils. During 2003-05 I retrained as a demographer, with specific interests in biodemography and mortality. I combined a career change with fertility recuperation (two children born 2006 and 2009) and have worked part-time since 2006.
- 1998-2000: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge
- 1998-2001: Junior Research Fellow, Newnham College Cambridge
- 2000-2005: Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow
- 2001-2006: Senior Research Fellow, Newnham College Cambridge
- 2006-2007: Research Fellow, Oxford Institute of Ageing
- 2007-08: Departmental Lecturer in Demography, Institute of Human Sciences, University of Oxford.
- 2008-2010: Visiting Research Fellow, Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure
- 2010-2011: Research Associate, Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure (Wellcome Generation to Reproduction project)
- 2011- : Senior Research Associate, Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure
- B.A. (History) University of New South Wales
- B.A. (Hons, Botany) University of Adelaide
- Ph.D. (Botany) University of Cambridge
- M.Sc. (Demography) London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
My current research is focused on two questions: (1) the causes of the dramatic transformation of the urban mortality regime in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and (2) the contributions of specific causes of death to the curious patterns of mortality change by age and cohort in the English population between 1750 and c.1930.
Before the late eighteenth century cities acted as demographic sinks, reliant on a constant stream of immigrants from rural areas even to maintain their populations in the face of extremely high urban death rates. The high demographic cost of urban centres limited the potential for urbanization, and presented a fundamental barrier to modern economic growth. However the late eighteenth century witnessed a transformation of the urban epidemiological regime in north-western Europe, and by the mid-nineteenth century even the worst of Britain's cities were capable of natural population growth. The cause of this radical improvement in urban death rates remains one of the outstanding puzzles of historical demography. In Britain this transformation in urban life expectancies coincided with the classic period of the Industrial Revolution, however almost all our scant knowledge of this process is confined to London. We know virtually nothing of mortality change in the rapidly growing industrial centres such as Liverpool and Manchester, which accounted for most of the acceleration in urban population growth that occurred from the late eighteenth century. Manchester grew approximately twelvefold from 20,000 to a quarter of a million over the century before 1850, and became notorious amongst nineteenth century social reformers for the appalling living conditions and high mortality rates amongst its poor.
With Jeremy Boulton (University of Newcastle) I am comparing mortality trends in London and Manchester using a very unusual type of source, sextons' burial books, that recorded age at burial, cause of death, and burial fee (for the parish of St. Martin in the Fields Westminster, and the Manchester collegiate church). These records make it possible to analyse the contribution of different causes of death to mortality at different ages, and to trace changes in the distribution of burials by age and cause. Comparison of trends in London and Manchester should elucidate the key epidemiological changes that drove ubiquitous declines in urban mortality in this period. The datasets will also enable us to explore the specific consequences of industrialisation for mortality trends and levels, especially in the period 1820-50, when mortality is argued to have worsened specifically in 'new' industrial towns. In addition, the richness of the sources for St. Martin in the Fields makes it possible to investigate differences in infant mortality by social class, using fees paid for baptism and burial. Although now a global norm, differences in mortality by income group are thought to have arisen (at least at the national level) during the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, but few data exist to test this hypothesis. For further details of these projects see specific project pages (right).
For the later nineteenth century I have made machine-readable the annual counts of deaths by cause, sex and age from the Registrar-General's Reports for England & Wales 1848-1900, making with the Office of National Statistics' series a continuous cause of death series to 2006. This is the longest cause of death series available for any national population, and enables the study of long-run changes in mortality patterns in the period of secular decline in mortality in England & Wales in great detail. In particular, it permits long-run studies of mortality by cohort and cause, and allows detailed assessment of the extent of redistribution of deaths between categories of cause of death, which is not possible when only isolated causes of death are examined. I have created a similar database for Scotland covering the period 1855-1949 (see project pages). Both projects were funded by the British Academy.
Current projects using these data include (see 'publications' and 'projects' for detail):
- Differences in infant mortality by social status in Georgian London
- Smallpox transmission dynamics and the geography of smallpox epidemics in eighteenth-century England
- Mortality and epidemiological change in Manchester 1750-1850
- The impact of immigration to London on metropolitan and national mortality rates, 1750-1900
- Stillbirth and neonatal mortality in eighteenth-century London
- The contribution of the workhouse to mortality rates under the 'Old Poor Law'
- The role of birth cohort effects in the decline of tuberculosis mortality 1850 - 1950: an international comparison.
- Davenport R, Boulton J, Schwarz L. 'The decline of adult smallpox in eighteenth-century London'. Economic History Review, 64(4): 1289-1314
- Boulton J, Davenport R, Schwarz L. '"These ANTE-CHAMBERS OF THE GRAVE"? Mortality, medicine, and the workhouse in Georgian London, 1725-1824' in J. Reinarz & L. Schwarz (eds) Medicine and the Workhouse (University of Rochester Press) (in press).
- Davenport RJ, Boulton J, Black J 'Neonatal and maternal mortality in the workhouse of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 1725-1824' (submitted to Population Studies)
- Davenport RJ & Boulton J. 'New insights into urban mortality, 1750-1820' (extended version of a talk for the Graunt anniversary day meeting, Gresham College, Nov 2012).
- Davenport RJ 'The relationship between stillbirth and early neonatal mortality: evidence from eighteenth century London'
- Davenport RJ 'Year of birth effects in the historical decline of tuberculosis mortality: a reconsideration'
- Davenport RJ, Boulton J, Schwarz L. 'Infant and young adult mortality in London's West End, 1750-1824' (extended version of a paper given in Cambridge, May 2008)