The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Disease Dynamics in Åland, Finland - 1750 to 1950


Anthropology, University of Kansas

Saturday Afternoon, 200DE Add to calendar

Understanding long-term disease patterns and their linkages to demographic and cultural features is important in today’s emerging epidemiological landscape. Åland is an excellent location to examine these temporal dynamics. Historical data are complete, detailed, and accurate. Since the seventeenth century Swedish Lutheran ministers have kept records of baptisms, marriages, and burials as well as a general register of their parishioners. In addition, the archipelago is relatively isolated making it easy to define the affected population and trace changes in the composition and structure over time and space.

Analyses show that Åland’s demographic transition differs in character and timing when compared to both Finland and Sweden. Growth of the population was relatively steady from 1750 to the mid-1850. Then there was a marked increase that corresponded to a decrease in mortality. Infant mortality rates were initially high (averaging about 300), falling abruptly after the 1808-09 War. IMRs continued to fall, reaching 140 by 1900. Death rates for children under 10 years drop steady over time becoming much less variable after 1790, reflecting changes in disease pressures. There is also a steady increase in death rates for those 70+. Causes of death changed over the 200 year time period, reflecting an epidemiological transition. Epidemics of smallpox, measles, typhus, and other infectious diseases dominated during the 1700s and well into the mid-1800s. A shift to a more chronic disease pattern occurred at end of the 19th century. These historical epidemiological and demographic changes are discussed within the evolving socio-cultural landscape of the archipelago.

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