Socioeconomic Differences in the Health of Black Union Army Soldiers
NBER Working Paper No. 14745
This paper investigates patterns of socioeconomic difference in the wartime morbidity and mortality of black Union Army soldiers. Among the factors that contributed to a lower probability of contracting and dying from diseases were (1) lighter skin color, (2) a non-field occupation, (3) residence on a large plantation, and (4) residence in a rural area prior to enlistment. Patterns of disease-specific mortality and timing of death suggest that the differences in the development of immunity against diseases and in nutritional status prior to enlistment were responsible for the observed socioeconomic differences in wartime health. For example, the advantages of light-skinned soldiers over dark-skinned and of enlisted men formerly engaged in non-field occupations over field hands resulted from differences in nutritional status. The lower wartime mortality of ex-slaves from large plantations can be explained by their better-developed immunity as well as superior nutritional status. The results of this paper suggest that there were substantial disparities in the health of the slave population on the eve of the Civil War.