Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Longevity again

I was looking for info on 18th century Milan and stumbled across this in a review of a book.

It's interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, note that half the women (all women, not just nuns) born between 1700 and 1743 lived to 67 or older. A quarter lived to over 74. Remember that if anyone tries to tell you people were lucky to live to over 35, especially women.

It's also interesting to think that nuns might live longer because of having a community, and it emphasizes the fact that convent life was often chosen in the past as a way of enjoying a long, healthy life.

"Throughout the period she studied, roughly half of the nuns lived to age 70, and a quarter to their late 70s. By contrast, of the Milanese married women born between 1600 and 1649, half died by age 54 and another quarter by age 68. Half of the Milanese women born between 1700 and 1743 died by age 67 and another quarter by age 74. So although the married women's
longevity improved over a century, Brown said, they still died, on average, at younger ages than the nuns.

There is no reason to think that Florentine nuns were unusual among Italian women religious in their longevity, Brown said. At one convent in Venice, for example, the nuns had a mean age at death of around 70, with a third of the nuns living to their late 70s.

Given the extreme dangers of childbirth before the 20th century, it is not surprising that the mortality rates of nuns would be lower than those of married women during the childbearing years, Brown said. But even among women who survived to the post-menopausal years, the nuns outlived the married women, she said.

It is quite possible, Brown said, that the married women suffered long-term deleterious effects from repeated pregnancies and births. The data on the Milanese women show that those who at age 20 had only one or two children were more likely to survive to all ages than their sisters who had more children. Similarly, Brown said, those who at age 25 had one to three children had a greater probability of surviving to all ages than those women who had more children by that age.

The nuns also lived longer than their male contemporaries, both married men and those in religious communities. "



ERiCA said...

Wow, that's really intriguing. I think a lot of people have this misconception about how likely it was to see "old" age or what constituted "elderly".

Thanks for the link! =)

Jo B said...

Yes, Erica.

It comes from statistics. Babies and children died a lot in the past so if we average life expectancy, we get something like 35. But if we look at people who survived to 20, we see a life expectancy of closer to 70.