Infant mortality in Ottawa, Canada, 1901: Assessing cultural, economic and environmental factors

Michael E. Mercier, Christopher G. Boone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Infant mortality is widely recognized as an indicator of poor living conditions. Scholars have identified economic, housing, environmental, and more recently, cultural determinants of infant mortality. Using individual-level data and record linkage this paper documents and explains the geography of infant mortality in Ottawa in 1901. Infant death in Ottawa mirrored the geography of poor living conditions in the city. The poorest and most densely settled community in Ottawa was Lowertown, a mostly French-Canadian part of the city with a disproportionate share of the city's infant deaths. In addition to environmental factors, infant mortality was linked to economic standing. Poorer families in Lowertown were more likely to have one of their infants die than better off families. After controlling for economic standing, however, cultural factors were stronger predictors of infant deaths. French-Canadian families in Lowertown had a greater risk of infant deaths than did families of other backgrounds irrespective of material circumstances. Supporting conclusions drawn elsewhere, this paper suggests that the interaction of particular cultural practices, such as shorter periods of breast-feeding among French-Canadians and a poor sanitary environment, resulted in high infant mortality rates in Ottawa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)486-507
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Archaeology


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