NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Determinants of Slave and Crew Mortality in the Atlantic Slave Trade

Richard H. Steckel, Richard A. Jensen

NBER Working Paper No. 1540
Issued in 1985
NBER Program(s):   DAE

This paper measures and analyzes death rates that prevailed in the Atlantic slave trade during the late 1700s. Crew members died primarily from fevers (probably malaria) and slaves died primarily from gastrointestinal diseases. Annual death rates in this activity were 230 per thousand among the crew and 83 per thousand among slaves. The lack of immunitiesto the African disease environment contributed to the high death rates among the crew. The spread of dysentery among slaves during the voyage was probably exacerbated by congestion and poor nutrition. Death rates differed systematically by region of origin in Africa and season of the year. There was little interaction between the incidence of slave and crew deaths. The high death rates make the slave trade a demographic laboratory for study of health and mortality and an economic laboratory for study of markets for free labor.

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Published: Journal of Economic History, vol.46, no.1, pp57-77, March 1986.

 
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