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Cheryl Elman, Duke University

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Thursday, March 21, 2019
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3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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Cheryl Elman: Plantations and Parasites: Development and Disease in the Twentieth Century American South

Lagged economic development and poor population health contributed to race-related differences in fertility and infant mortality in the early twentieth-century American South. However, the South, predominantly rural through 1940, was marked by both small-scale farming and multi-farm or plantation development. Plantation croppers, disproportionately African American, were generally malnourished, poorly housed, and legally tied to farms through debt to plantation owners and local merchants. The southern population through the 1940s was also exposed to poor sanitation and parasitic diseases of malaria and hookworm. Linking 1910 IPUMS to 1916 Plantation Census data and to disease (malaria and hookworm) and sanitation indicators we find that African American and white women in counties with higher malaria mortality had higher child mortality. African American women exposed to poorer sanitation and greater plantation development had higher child mortality. Statistically controlling for child mortality, white women had fewer births in counties with greater land improvement and school attendance; plantation development did not significantly affect their childbearing. In contrast, African American women exposed to greater plantation development (marked by poor living standards), higher malaria mortality, and poorer sanitation had significantly fewer children; county land improvement and school attendance did not significantly affect their childbearing.